The rental industry is highly experienced at adapting to change and it will be one of the first to reflect advances in technology. But it is in-car gadgetry that will shape the future of rental for fleets, according to current rental providers.
New trends such as biometric technology, which uses fingerprint recognition to identify people, could be used to start vehicles without needing a key.
Ben Hall, head of public affairs at Hertz Europe, said: ‘Technology will continue to change the face of travel and car rental. Biometric technology may replace the showing of passports and driving licences, booking online and Global Positioning System (GPS) could see the car delivered to the customer’s door with trips pre-programmed and mobile technology could open and control the car – the possibilities are endless.
‘One thing we can probably be confident about is that daily car rental will remain popular as car rental increases penetration and, who knows, with talk of leisure space travel becoming a reality, we may even be providing daily rental of moon buggies.’
Neil McCrossan, vice-president, sales and marketing at National Car Rental, agrees that technology will shape the future. He said: ‘Fleets will expect to see new technology and it will open up the possibilities of how rental cars are used.
‘However, it will need to be flexible and fleets will want to see the technology at no extra cost.’
The way in which rental vehicles are used will be one of the main developments over the next few decades according to McCrossan, with the wider use of hi-tech systems allowing fleets to pay for rental by the hour. Telematics systems enable rental companies to remotely monitor and control vehicles by unlocking doors and allowing access to individual drivers with the correct key fob.
The vehicle can record and transmit to the rental company details of mileage covered and the time each driver is in the vehicle, enabling a detailed bill to be produced.
McCrossan said: ‘On a pay-per-use basis, fleet managers can see where a vehicle has moved to and whether more than one driver has used it.’
Some rental companies already offer services such as car clubs where a vehicle is booked electronically and picked up from a nearby location by the fleet driver. The vehicle can be unlocked remotely from a central office.
Avis operates the Urbigo system, where drivers have their own key fob, which only works if the car has been booked.
Penny Stoolman, director of sales and marketing at Avis, said: ‘Based on the Urbigo car club principle, drivers will be able to hop into an Avis vehicle for a few hours wherever they are – at the beach, in a city centre or at the supermarket and the rental network will grow considerably with cars based in many more locations.’
Additional branches will give those using rental companies the opportunity to pick up a vehicle from almost anywhere.
Stoolman said: ‘There will be car rental stations at every train station to enable motorists to join up their train trip using a car at the end of their journey, while all cars will have integrated hands-free phones, computers and faxes as the rental car becomes a mobile office for the corporate user.’
Technology will open up a whole new way of transport for businesses and how people use their cars.
McCrossan said: ‘The business model we used 20 years ago was successful but we wouldn’t be able to run our fleet today with it. We now need technology.’
Rental companies are constantly enthusing about how branch staff are often the key to optimum service, so will improvements in technology lead to a reduction in staff?
Apparently not, according to McCrossan.
He said: ‘Technology will change things but we may need as many staff, they will just be doing different things.’
Alternative fuels are likely to feature more commonly in daily rental fleets but McCrossan believes success will depend on future Government fiscal policies.
He said: ‘The introduction of fuel cells will be driven by Government policies. The explosion in airline travel has also made a huge difference to rental companies and it is the external factors which impact on us.’
As air travel becomes used for even short business journeys, daily rental companies are likely to use this as an advantage, promoting additional services for business drivers.
Stoolman said: ‘More airlines will be offering chauffeur-drive to their customers to collect them from home and take them to the airport as part of a push to help reduce the stress of flying for business travellers.’
The way in which fleets use daily rental companies could also become more flexible, moving from a practical usage to one that revolves around the driver’s needs and wants.
Stoolman added: ‘In future, some companies will shelve some of their company cars in favour of rental cars so, under new flexible benefit schemes, drivers will be able to have a cabriolet in the summer, an estate for the annual skiing holiday and a 4x4 in winter.’