Fleet News

Europcar begins product-led push to be No.1

Volkswagen-owned Europcar is trialling groundbreaking flexible rental products as it focuses on becoming the number one daily rental firm in Europe by 2003.

The firm currently stands second in Europe behind Avis, but upheaval in the rental market in the past two months following the September 11 terrorist attacks on America is reshaping demand for services.

Estimates suggest incoming business from America fell by 45%, while holidaymakers in Europe are showing signs of opting for local destinations, such as Spain and Italy, instead of long-haul flights to America.

One new service the firm is expecting to take off is a cross-border, one-way rental service that Europcar claims to offer a viable alternative to flying for short-haul trips.

The firm claims that, with increased security and delays at airports in the wake of the terrorist attacks on America, a 'quick journey' can now last hours.

Taking account of the time customers spend getting to the airport, waiting for the plane, dealing with delays and waiting for baggage and customs at the other side, travelling by road could be quicker, the firm claims.

Europcar International chief executive Dr Michael Kern said: 'Since the attacks on the US, a lot of people may have become worried about making plane journeys and some companies have allowed staff not to fly if they don't want to.

'Yet, if a journey is about 400 kilometres, say between Lille and Brussels, then it can take longer by plane than if you drive.'

Drivers could potentially use the service to substitute flights between 40 European airports, which Kern claimed offered a flat rate, one-way service that was cheaper than travelling by plane.

However, because the UK is a right-hand drive market and the rest of Europe is left-hand drive, the firm said it would be a more difficult option to introduce in Britain, because cars would have to be returned, adding extra cost to the service.

Italy is trialling a fully flexible long-term rental product, called Easylease, with customers paying a flat rate every month to access a specific level of car.

However, drivers can then opt for a different style of vehicle, for example moving from a hatchback to an estate, saloon or MPV for the weekend, with potential for the service to provide customers with the same level of vehicle, anywhere in the world.

Kern, who joined Europcar's board of management in 1997, added: 'Worldwide flexibility for this product can be built in. You commit to renting the vehicle for a certain period, then you can move around within that group. However, we need to find the right balance between the needs of the client and logistical overkill.'

The firm is also watching developments with a city car club, offering hourly rental of a dedicated fleet to members, which is developing in Hamburg. The company will see whether this project can be rolled out more widely.

Kern said: 'We are looking at total mobility management. We have a booking machine on some trains in Germany that allow you to order your rental car. When you arrive at your station, someone is waiting for you with the keys.

'We are working on a project to create a single ticket, which would give you air travel, train and rental in one go.'

The firm estimates its average fleet size will remain at 200,000 units this year, although rentals will increase by 6% from last year's 5.5 million.

It also expects its global network to increase from 100 countries to 118, giving it 2,650 locations and pushing pre-tax profit above the €37million it achieved last year. (December 2001)

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