Fleet News

Industry is divided over web threat to rental implants

GROWING use of the internet to make rental bookings could make the need for car hire implants in major customers' offices obsolete within years.

Electronic systems allow companies to empower their staff to make bookings within strict spending and vehicle limits, which removes the need for a member of staff from a rental company to oversee the process, even in a large fleet operation.

The claims made by Nick Brown, chief executive of fleet services company FMG Group, which operates the internet-based rental brokerage www.netrentacar.com, have divided fleet opinion.

FMG Group's own daily rental business, Satellite Vehicle Rental, has been using the system for several years and has slashed costs as a result.

The business used to have three implants to cope with the level of incoming business calls it got from fleets and their drivers but now has none.

Netrentacar allows fleet managers and their drivers to self-manage short-term vehicle hire. Once orders for vehicles are received, the system automatically scans a database of more than 200,000 vehicles and 2,000 locations for the nearest supplier at the best value.

Because the system can demand quotes from a large number of daily rental suppliers, and can be modified to include a fleet's own terms, FMG Group believes it is much more efficient than using implants.

Satellite Vehicle Rental's savings run into tens of thousands of pounds alone, and it estimates this led directly to a potential 4% reduction in rental rates for customers.

Brown said: 'We wanted to take cost out of the rental process and saw the opportunity of automating the entire business of being an intermediary.'

The firm is at the next critical stage of development of the system, which would replace the need to email rental companies with booking details. Instead, netrentacar will automatically communicate with the rental company's system, eliminating the need for any further work on the booking, other than delivering the vehicle.

Brown added: 'This will be a paperless rental system that can be used by anyone who is in the business of car rental. We are having a lot of success with travel management operators and rental companies are very interested in the next stage of development. Already two major firms are planning to connect their systems directly to ours and we are on the verge of agreeing terms with two or three more.

'This would completely take away the need for implants, at least from a travel management company's perspective.'

Satellite Vehicle Rental and netrentacar are one of several businesses run by FMG Group, based in Huddersfield, including Delta Commercial Vehicle Services and AMC Accident Management.

But despite the potential savings, rental rivals claim fleets may still demand the personal touch from their suppliers.

Neil Cunningham, general manager for Hertz UK said: 'Implants can add value for the corporate customer, by completing the reservation process and performing procedures on behalf of the client.

'For example, chasing maintenance providers at leasing implants. Having a Hertz employee on site can be likened to having an account manager on site, who will handle everything from last minute bookings, special requests and, perhaps above all, invoicing and statement reconciliation.

'However, we would maintain the implants only so long as the customer finds that they are cost justified and add value, and that decision would occur on an account-by-account basis. We are committed to implants so long as it makes sense for the customer, as we can offer direct booking links if required.'

It is difficult for any company to make a generalisation about service levels when modern customers demand an individual response to their needs.

Andrew Burton, sales and marketing director for Thrifty Car Rental, said: 'A benefit of an implant can be the workload they can take on. We are investigating the benefits of technology that could reduce the need for implants, but you have to be led by the customer.'

One major fleet is already a convert to a world without rental firm implants.

Phil Redman, fleet manager of IBM, has to organise 1,100 rentals a month for his drivers, but he disposed of his implants eight years ago.

He said: 'Our preferred supplier is Hertz and we have passed control of costs to managers at department level. Drivers can book cars through our own system, or through an agent. This way we are able to operate without implants.'

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