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Friday, 10 January 2014 15:46

How Is Technology Changing the Rental Car Industry?

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As with all major industries, technology is having a significant, enabling influence for companies operating within the car rental industry. Although the implementation of new technology within the industry is widespread, in analysis, it can be seen to be affecting three key areas.

Firstly, in an industry which has traditionally been perceived as gas-guzzling, new technologies are enabling car hire companies to lower their carbon footprint. Furthermore, vehicle wear and tear has long been seen as an occupational hazard within car hire, and while this is still a reality, new technology is allowing for better fleet management techniques, as well as protection from theft. Lastly, and perhaps most key in an industry that at times has frustrated its customers, technology is improving the experience of the end user. Read on to discover how.

Green technologies

Concerns over the extent of the carbon footprint that businesses are creating and anxiety over global warming have become universal concerns. Consequently, to appease a ground swelling in market demand, rental companies are looking integrate more cars with fuel-efficient technologies into their fleets.

Of those available technologies, hybrid cars have been the most prominent because they have proved to be highly popular with customers. This is because they appease the desire of environmentally conscious customers combining less fuel with – most importantly – little compromise in terms of performance. 

The fact that hybrid cars are able to retain relatively good performance is due to the fact that they still use traditional fuels for at least half of their power. As a result, commentators have been provided with the ammunition to criticise hybrid cars as merely a stop-gap solution in the battle to reduce global emissions. 

Electric vehicles

The alternative is fully electric vehicles (EVs), yet the compromise they present in terms of performance has thus far inhibited their popularity with all but the staunchest of environmentalists. This is certainly true of the rental car industry, where a phenomenon known as 'range anxiety' is causing customers to pull the plug on EVs over fear that the battery will run out mid-journey. Just as fire is best used to fight fire, though, newer technology can be used to combat almost any problem caused by current solutions.  

Orlando, Florida, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, and thus one of the most abundant consumers of hire cars, is providing more charge points throughout the location to help combat range anxiety. At the same time, the UK government has set aside £37million to improve complimentary EV infrastructure. 

Providing this level of investment is maintained, EVs could still be the answer for those looking for a reliable, greener alternative to cars powered by combustion engines.

Black box 

Almost everyone will be familiar with the common, media appointed name for flight data recording technology, the black box. Well, now technology that works in a similar fashion is becoming more widespread within the rental industry. 

Essentially, GPS tracking technology built into a rental car can be used by companies to determine the position of any vehicle in their fleet, at any time. The upshot from the rental company's point of view is that this technology allows substantially better fleet management opportunities, such as preventing theft and knowing when customers are breaking the speed limit in their cars.

What side of the fence you stand may influence how well received the introduction of such technology is, though. Whilst there is no doubt over the benefits such technology offers for those in the industry, for some, tracking and monitoring people in this fashion will raise serious questions in relation to rights of privacy.

Biometrics 

First used in the UK at Stansted Airport in 2006, biometrics is increasingly being rolled out across rental car collection points. Like the black box, biometrics is a technological advancement protecting the investment that rental car companies have put into compiling their fleet against theft. 

The UK has the highest number per capita of stolen cars in Europe. Part of the reason for this is the sophisticated techniques that thieves use, including forging false documents to hire and then steal rental cars. Therefore, biometrics used in conjunction with police records, are becoming an essential part of ensuring that there is a traceable record which can be used to track down such criminals.   

Electronic fuel metering

A technology that is making its first tentative steps towards wider integration within the car rental industry is electric fuel metering. In America, this technology is in the process of being trialled, with Hertz's chief executive, Mark Frissora stating that the company loses an estimated $50million a year in unaccounted fuel.

The technology is designed to measure the exact amount of fuel that a customer has in the tank when they leave with a rental car and then again when they return it. The theory behind this is that customers can see exactly how much fuel they are being charged for, if there is a discrepancy. 

Smart-phone technology

Smart-phones are changing the retail industry right across the board, by putting an unprecedented level of information in the hands of the consumer, as and when they need it. Those retailers that are thriving are the ones that are complimenting their physical retail channels with mobile technology, thus adding value for the consumer. 

The car rental industry is also reacting to this demand by implementing automated rental technology which facilitates every aspect of acquiring a rental car, through the use of a mobile app. The Hertz 24/7 app is one such piece of technology which carries out this function and is now available at over 2,000 locations worldwide, having been rolled out across the UK during the summer of 2013. 

To enjoy the 24/7 access that the name of the app suggests, you'll need to register an account with Hertz so that you receive an entry device that facilitates access to all suitable rental cars. Simply swipe the entry device across the reader on the windshield; everything else from booking the car to finding a location where to pick it up is taken care of by the app.

Automated rental technology such as Hertz's 24/7 app is predicted to completely change the face of the industry as rentals can be made for as little as one hour at a time when using the service. This, alongside the GPS system built into the app, allows customers to easily find the rental car nearest to their location, totally revolutionising the ease with which cars can be rented.

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