With the travel industry so heavily impacted by Covid in 2020, the car rental sector has also taken a hit. In the US it was recently reported that companies were struggling to meet demand with a current wave of domestic travel because they’d sold off so much of their fleet to stay afloat.
One recent blog post noted that the lack of vehicle availability was driving rental rates incredibly high to the point where it was shutting consumers out of the market. In the US demand is so high that where customers often leave car rental until they arrive at their destination, now many cities are sold out a week or more ahead. OTAs and rental aggregator sites are turning customers away empty handed.
Many people are eager to travel this year, with two thirds of people saying they are expecting to take a trip: often to visit family and friends they’ve been denied access to for the past twelve months. But current research suggests that 60% of global tourists voice concerns about contracting Covid whilst travelling, so many will be looking to drive to their vacation destination in 2021, rather than fly. Two thirds of US respondents in this survey said they would favor car travel over planes.
Car rental companies will be moving their fleets away from airports to other locations closer to their potential customers. So what other changes can the car rental market expect to see and turn to its advantage? Here are our top 5 trends.
People are avoiding public transport
Although lockdown measures in most cities are easing and the number of public transport journeys are increasing, many people are still reluctant to be locked inside trains and buses in close proximity to others who might have the virus.
Car ownership is often lower in cities, and congestion charges also help dissuade some city residents from owning cars, but if they want to avoid public transport they will be looking to drive instead.
Car rental firms can target city residents and those in the suburbs with favourable daily rates and messages on Covid cleanliness and flexibility of pick-up / drop-off times and locations. Make it easy for customers to drive and park and many will choose this over taking the train.
Electric vehicle use is growing
One of the key reasons people prefer public transport is to reduce their carbon footprint and car emissions in cities and their associated health concerns are likely to deter some people from choosing to drive. The EV market is predicted to grow by 25% over the next few years, underpinned by governments setting incentives on their use over traditional petrol cars, and stricter emissions standards, particularly in cities.
Car rental companies can save money on emissions charges and taxes, and attract customers with environmental concerns by shifting their fleet to EVs. This makes sense for a rental industry that needs to increase its fleet size again and which sells vehicles on a year or two into their tenure. With auto manufacturing scaled down in 2020 there’s likely to be more unsold EVs available for purchase. As electric cars are more expensive to buy, rental is an attractive option for some consumers who need occasional car use and prefer to minimise their environmental impact, and the secondary market should be much more favourable than traditionally fuelled cars for selling on.
People want a second car, but not a new car
Because of the shift away from public transport, more families are looking to add a second car to their household. Nevertheless figures show that sales of new cars are declining. The effect of lockdown and economic uncertainty on consumers saw new car sales decline by about 20% in 2020.
Whilst a degree of recovery is expected this year, there are shifts that the rental market should take note of. People are doing more buying online – even for their cars. Companies should boost their online presence and market as an affordable alternative to buying a new or second car. Depreciation of new cars is dramatic the instant they roll off the forecourt, so ad hoc rental, or shared ownership schemes could be an attractive alternative for the family pondering a second vehicle.
The ride-share market is changing
Although companies like Uber and Lyft had been growing their market share of hailed travel, the pandemic has also negatively impacted them. Lyft reported declines of 75% at the peak of the pandemic in April 2020.
Although convenient for consumers, a lack of trust on Covid security and anxiety around sharing the vehicle with the driver put people off from booking trips with these companies.
The market will be bouncing back with the rollout of vaccinations, however there is still an opportunity for the rental industry to capture some of the market share, particularly as Uber prices per ride are comparatively high this year.
Technology is a driver
As well as shifting to online shopping for almost every type of purchase they make, consumers are using apps a lot more, especially around travel and tourism. Downloads of apps related to this sector ran to many millions in 2020. This is fuelled by continued growth in smartphone use.
Not only this, but technology is also playing a bigger role in the way companies find and attract customers, in how they optimize their operations and revenue, and in tracking consumer behaviour for marketing purposes.
Business Intelligence solutions can help companies gain the competitive edge on their rivals, as well as streamlining their operations. FornovaMI can help car rental companies to:
- Compare competitors' prices
- Monitor their fleet availability
- Optimize their distribution across online channels
- Make certain their prices are the same on every platform
- Maximize their revenue opportunities