The quality of service in the daily rental sector would be enough to make any business, no matter how good, take a look at its own operation.
What other sector of the motor industry can offer a £15,000 asset for a day for less than the price of a restaurant meal, and provide ground-breaking innovations year after year to improve service to customers?
Such widespread examples of good service make it all the more impressive when one company is good enough to be considered the best in the industry. Hertz Rent a Car achieved this in the 2002 Fleet News Awards when it took the Autoglass-sponsored Best Daily Rental Company trophy.
The industry may be in turmoil following September 11, 2001, but the firm continued its drive to innovate and move its businesses forward. The Fleet News Awards judges were clear in their praise for Hertz and some of the other finalists.
They said: 'It is no exaggeration to say that the performance of the top three contenders in this category – Avis Rent a Car, Hertz Rent a Car and National Car Rental – stood head and shoulders above those assessed in all but one other category of the awards.'
Evidence of the commitment that eventually clinched the award for Hertz was clear in its submission, with nearly a page given over to listing the innovative launches that had taken place in the past year.
Services ranging from WAP phone rental services to expansion of the website and automated damage appraisal systems all helped improve service to customers.
For general manager Neil Cunningham, the strength of the company, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Ford, lies in a focus on two key areas: customer service and effective cost control.
He said: 'There are two fundamental areas I have concentrated on since being general manager and fleet director prior to that.
'Firstly there is customer satisfaction. The industry is not doing a great job in providing great customer service and that has been my specific crusade. I ensure that every year I meet every branch manager in the network, and we are running a service-based competition called 'mission possible' to encourage customer service.
'Secondly, we have always been focused on controlling costs. When times are good, our bottom line looks extremely good, but when times get harder, good cost control means we also fare well.'
Cunningham's cost control even stretches to his company car, which is a Ford Focus, even though he could easily opt for something more expensive. This disciplined approach has certainly been needed, with the terrorist attacks in America following on from the foot and mouth crisis in the UK.
The business is doing better than it was last year, although a 'good year' in the current climate is different to what it would have been a few years ago. Hertz has also continued its launch programme, offering new services and improving its products for customers throughout the year.
Updated services include P11d calculation on rental use, while the website has once again been relaunched, offering a facility to download copy invoices.
Cunningham said: 'More than 10% of our bookings come through the internet. It is a password-protected site and you can get invoices straight off it. A large number of the calls we used to get were simply asking for copy invoices because drivers had lost them or thrown them away by accident, so this saves fleets time.'
The firm is also investing in building up its van rental division to widen the services available to customers. It appointed Chris Moysen as van director in September.
Cunningham added: 'I would like to do a lot more van rental as we have never specialised in that area. It will mainly be aimed at medium-term rental and we can provide specialist services such as racking and all vehicles will be ply-lined.'
The firm also ensures it takes a consultative approach with customers. Cunningham said: 'We can help customers compare whether rental is a more viable option than something else. We do recommend the train if it is more cost-effective.
'Since the Hatfield rail crash, companies have been more focused on rental but they will take a more structured approach. So they might say, if three people are travelling, then a Ford Mondeo is allowed, but if two are travelling, then the vehicle can only be a Ford Focus and so on.'
Hertz has also launched a new prestige fleet hire service, which is based in London and could be taken nationwide next year. It offers a model specific reservation process, which is difficult to guarantee under normal rental programmes.
And the company is also developing new services to help customers when congestion charging is launched in London next February.
Cunningham said: 'We already get thousands of fines and speeding tickets and have a whole department working on it. We will just need more staff to defer costs to drivers and employers if they incur fines in our cars for non-payment of the charge. There is no way around it. Luckily, our rental depots are outside the charging zone.
However, we are introducing phones into the rental depots that offer a direct link to pay the congestion charge before they leave.'
Clearly since the award was presented, the firm has not been resting on its laurels and there is more planned for next year.
Cunningham added: 'We have won numerous awards in the past year, but we were particularly delighted with the Fleet News Award because it was awarded by an independent panel of judges.'