Jason Fried

June 28, 2021

Brands and rental cars

Every time I get off a plane and head to the rental car counter, I'm surprised by what I see.

Hertz, Avis, National, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Alamo, etc.

What I'd expect to see:

Audi, BMW, Tesla, Volkswagen, Mercedes, Lexus, Cadillac, Ford, Volvo, Porsche, Hyundai, Land Rover, etc.

I know you can rent those cars from the rental car companies, but not having the brands representing themselves seems like a missed opportunity. The other issue with trying to rent a specific brand from a rental company is that rental companies rarely guarantee exact cars. Especially with the huge rental car shortage these days.

I can't imagine a better way to try out a car prior to buying it than renting it on a trip. If it's a vacation or an important business trip — I'm already feeling good about it. Transfer those good feels, and special memories to the car — it'll make me want one even more.

Let's say I'm thinking of buying a Volvo XC90. The Volvo dealer will only let me test drive the thing, and that's just a few miles with them in the passenger seat with me. It literally feels like a test, with them as the proctor.

But if I land in Tucson, and need a car for a few days, what a great opportunity for Volvo to hook me as a customer. Let me rent an XC90 at the airport from the Volvo kiosk. The brand gets to control how they're represented, they get to present the car the way they want, and they get to send me off with a brand-sanctioned experience. They even get me to pay to try out their car! And happily, I might add.

Another thing... I may just like driving Audis and I want to drive an Audi wherever I go. I'm comfortable with how they drive, and, when visiting new cities with unknown streets, every degree of comfort behind the wheel leads to a greater feeling of safety and brand affinity. As an Audi customer, you'd think Audi would prefer to have me in an Audi than for me to find myself admiring a Mercedes from behind the wheel. I've found myself in that exact situation before.

I know Audi has sorta gone down this road with Silvercar. And that's a good step. Hopefully more brands will follow. Perhaps there are deeper regulatory issues I'm unaware of that prevent these companies from offering their own brand and cars in the rental car section of the airport, but barring that, I hope a few brands give it a shot. I think it would be a particularly excellent brand building, and customer-supporting, opportunity.