At a meeting in Paris in 1964, the leaders of 10 national associations representing the car rental industry decided to join forces and establish a new name in leasing.
Together they formed the European Car Rental Association, known as the ECA, which then accounted for 92,246 vehicles Europe-wide.
Today, several EU enlargements later and with business booming for leasing companies, the foresight of those pioneers of what has now become the European Car and Truck Rental Association (ECATRA) is clear. It has reached gargantuan proportions, with a fleet size of 6.2 million vehicles, 80% of which are cars, worth an estimated £93 billion.
It now has 17 members from 14 European countries, all of them national associations representing the short-term, long-term or truck rental industries. And it is difficult to ignore an association backed with that sort of buying power.
ECATRA has become a strong voice in the corridors of power with a key presence in Brussels, where it has had its headquarters since 1997, campaigning on behalf of the industry and fleet customers with the EU for many years, with growing influence and success.
ECATRA is recognised as the official EU trade association and has joined a number of consultative bodies and think tanks, including the European Society for Automobiles, a key European networking group on vehicles and Friends of Europe, a non-profit organisation promoting debate on policies and issues.
For ECATRA's president, Bernard Pollak, even this huge achievement is just a pre-cursor to further growth, both through the success of current member countries and the business opportunities brought through expansion of the EU.
Pollak is also on the board of French leasing firm Parcours, which operates 15,000 units, as well as being a judge and board member of the Chamber of Commerce. He said: 'For the industry in the past five to 10 years, growth has been exponential, but there has been a market slowdown because of economic uncertainties and terrorism. These trends of growth will continue, but not at the speed of the past year. However, I still expect the fleet of our members will grow to 10 million in the next five to 10 years.
'Despite all the problems the industry has had which have affected the business, 90% of the countries in ECATRA still increased their fleets. But growth won't be the double-digit growth we have had in the past.'
With the arrival of 10 new EU countries – Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovak Republic and Slovenia – future growth in members and fleet seems almost guaranteed.
Pollak added: 'We are potentially there at the beginning, but there has to be time for them to organise themselves.
'In certain cases, we may just be training and helping new EU countries.
'And while this will give us a geographic increase, we will also see more members joining from different leasing sectors in countries where we already have members.'
Pollak was speaking as ECATRA held its annual assembly and plenary meeting, which this year was held in Madrid. The meeting heard updates on key issues, including a series of discussions with European ministers to influence future legislation, from driving licences to vehicle tolls.
Pollak said: 'Each time there is a consultation about future legislation that could affect the industry, ECATRA is on the list of who to consult.
'It is recognised as the industry partner for the leasing business. It has taken us many years to achieve that, but over the last three to five years, we have been recognised.
'We need credibility and weight, which we have, to go to politicians and explain the industry's view and give our alternative. We have some good contacts and have had successes.'
ECATRA is also working to ensure the association itself is prepared for the future.
Pollak said: 'We have an action plan for 2002-2005 which we are working through to re-engineer the association.
'Clearly the future is influenced by the past, so we will have to adapt, because although you can plan, you can't control politics or the economy.'