Solving one of the greatest mysteries of our time; the car rental queue pickup nightmare

People impatiently waiting in line to get their rental car key at a Spanish airport. Photo from Car Rental Reviews.

We have all been there, business or pleasure; Queued up gently and waited and waited (and waited) for our rental car to be delivered, and most every time we have to ask ourselves; Why on earth does it take so freakin' long to simply get the key to our already-booked car?

When a business needs to offer a separate fast-track queue for guests titled “Premium”, “Platinum”, “Enterprise” or what not, it is a clear signal it needs to improve its efficiency.

Buckle up — it will get way worse!

The car rental industry is a gigantic business, offering cars on rent for short periods of time and primarily located near airports, tourist places and in larger cities, with a marked revenue of $58.26 Billion in 2016 alone.

The queues for picking up your rental car will increase year-by-year.

According to the Zion Market Research, the car rental industry is expected to grow at a CAGR (annual growth) of 13.55% between 2017 and 2022, making the expected market revenue for 2022 to be a staggering $124.56 Billion.

The major driving factor for the estimated growth in the car rental industry is the growth in the international tourism, with the global economy recovery playing a significant role, as the global GDP growth went from 3.1% in 2016 to 3.5% in 2017, further leading to an increase in the disposable income for tourists, especially in developing countries.

The International Monetary Fund, consisting of 189 member countries and with the purpose to ensure the stability of the international monetary system, in 2018 expected a 3.6% global economy growth, further increasing the demand for — among one million other things — rental cars.

On top of this, the developing countries like China and India has hundreds of millions of potential car rental customers up for grabs, which will not be able to afford their own car for the next decade or so.

Yet still, car rental companies cannot rely only on global economic growth for future success.

Three big players controlling ~70% of the industry

The car rental industry is in practice controlled by a few global players, each owning several brands, often to let the consumers think they are smart in comparing the services between two brands, with the transaction ending up in the same money bin anyway.

Enterprise, which owns National, Alamo, and of course Enterprise, is the biggest player in the car rental industry, with a market share of $20.9 Billion.

Second is Hertz with a market share of $9.5 Billion, which also owns Dollar and Thirfty.

AVIS, owned by The AvisBudget Group, is the third largest car rental corporation, with a market share of $8.66 Billion, just below Hertz. AVIS also owns the well-known car rental brand Budget.

Of a total market revenue of just under $60 Billion, the three largest players in the car rental industry controls almost $40 Billion of it, counting to nearly 70% market share.

Enterprise, Hertz and AvisBudget — visualized by this semi-magician.

Watch out you big players — disruption is coming!

Controlling an industry often ends up on a sleeping pillow, with disruption far out of sight, which is exactly where this industry have been at for the last decades.

Sure, the booking of a rental car on the big players' websites has gone from being a horrible and almost impossible task to conquer just a few years ago, to today becoming a somewhat achievable task for most internet users.

As with most disruption, it is for the most lead by either smaller companies or “third party” companies to the core corporation running the actual business, and this is exactly what is happening with the car rental industry as well, with OTAs (Online Travel Agencies) like Booking.com, Expedia and RentalCars.com (owned by Booking Holding) leading the way, with innovative and now very easy-to-use booking solutions, all the way up until the pickup counter.

One of the leading OTA's, RentalCars.com, offers a relatively seamless experience for selecting and booking a car. Unfortunately the great experience comes to a brutal stop when picking up the rented car.

Which brings us to the core of this article; solving the car rental pickup counter nightmare.

Disrupting and solving the car rental pickup counter nightmare

There will be a wave of new companies entering the car rental market over the next decade, bringing a ton of innovative ways to both book, pick up and deliver the rental car.

Some of the most promising ones will among other things simply let you walk straight to your already-booked car and unlocking it by using their app, with the optional-to-be-used keys to start the car already inside the car. Delivering it will be likewise simple; just park it at a designated area and “End the rental” from within the app.

Others will — like very popular India-based ZoomCar, offer doorstep-delivery of your selected car.

Automotive-maker Tesla has had in-place a great solution for both unlocking, starting and locking a Tesla EV for years, and in 2018 the car rental company AVIS ordered- and added nearly 300 Tesla EV's to its Norwegian rental fleet.

People has also suggested that Tesla takes a more pro-active approach towards the car rental industry and dive straight into the gigantic business themselves.

Tesla Robotaxi or similar services from Waymo or others will enter the car rental market, one way or the other.

Tesla and Elon Musk themselves has however already unveiled the maybe most disruptive solution to date; Robotaxi, a gigantic fleet of privately-owned Tesla EVs, open for rental directly between two private persons, with the Tesla EV being autonomously driven from the owner to the customer, and then — after the rental period is over, being autonomously returned back to the owner, from whatever location the customer parked it at.

Ok, so, how can the existing car rental industry solve the biggest issue of the multi-billion dollar car rental industry which they cannot solve themselves; the $%*!&# queue at the pickup counter?

Well, the solution is as simple as it is stupidly basic; The car rental companies simply need to make sure the already pre-filled-in details (name, home address, driver license number, etc) are pre-entered into the booking-system in advance upon arrival of the pickup, so the customer only needs to show some ID and get the keys delivered out.

Check! Problem solved. For now.

Complex issues are best solved with easy solutions.

— Anonymous, smart person

The car rental company who first offers aGuaranteed under 100 Seconds Pickup Experience” (or the customer will get for example free gas throughout the rental period) will most definitely get more customers, and — most importantly — take a big leap in starting to build trust from its customers, the number #1 conversion factor for the future customers that for sure will push this industry hard over the next decade.

If any of the players (both big and small) in the car rental industry would like to get more concrete input and suggestions on ways to improve the customer experience and to start building more trust from its existing- and future customers, including working on the UX-part of it, feel free to reach out to me for an expensive but most-likely worth-it offer from someone who deeply wants to help this industry taking a leap or two forward.

Roy-André Tollefsen

Written by

Entrepreneur, founder, investor, father, nerd, writer and what not.

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