There's a survey for everything these days, and everything is easily translatable to list form. The auto industry is not immune to this: Who can resist "The Best Vehicles for Dogs" or "The World's Ugliest Cars"?
Though predominantly consumer driven, auto-related surveys have just as much, if not more, relevance within the business community. This is especially true for auto rental operators, who have experience with scores of models and hundreds of vehicles from varied manufacturers, and who rely on their fleet vehicles as their main source of revenue.
Auto Rental News surveyed owners and managers of auto rental companies to determine their "favorite rental car of all time." Survey respondents were asked to judge 35 model choices on price, functionality, reliability, safety, customer experience, maintenance, acquisition costs, resale value and overall return on investment.
The results revealed how the auto rental industry considers a favorite car compared to the general public. In their evaluations, survey respondents cited "reliability" most often, not surprising when rental cars run at least a thousand miles a week. Cost to repair ranked almost as high-with so many vehicles to manage, "cost to replace brake pads" and even "cost to replace a lost key" become key considerations.
Contrary to consumer car surveys, a vehicle's styling was not a primary judging criteria. While styling was mentioned, it was often in deference to a simple, ergonomic design. Rental operators appreciate a car "without a lot of bells and whistles for the customer to mess up."
Acquisition cost matters, but resale value was mentioned more often. Functionality, roominess and trunk space are also coveted-respondents pointed out that a good rental car needs to be versatile enough to handle a renter's needs if the requested rental class is sold out.
Here are the top 10 results, out of 386 responses.
The winner: Toyota Camry
In addition to achieving the highest score, the Camry garnered the most comprehensive praise from the auto rental industry, with comments such as "most versatile"; "great car, period"; "great all-around rental"; "It is by far the best rental vehicle I have ever come across, factoring in every aspect of the industry"; "I think they are the best-built cars [serving] the car rental industry."
More so than other models, operators pointed out that the Camry is a renter's favorite, citing its "good image to customers"; "customer satisfaction"; "customers love it"; "people request it."
The Camry was voted the most popular rental car in spite of Toyota's recent recall issues. Respondents wrote: "... fewer maintenance issues (except for that pesky sticking pedal business)"; "Customer satisfaction, resale and reliability, even with last year's recall issues"; "Until 2010, it was the most reliable and offered excellent residual value."
Second Place: Ford Taurus (pre discontinuation)
We split the Taurus into two choices, as the model line was discontinued in 2006 and reborn on a new platform in 2009 for the 2010 model year (with a rebadging of the Ford 500 in between). Both incarnations were highly praised by rental operators. The pre-discontinued Taurus took second overall in our survey, while the new Taurus took third.
The original Ford Taurus is viewed as "a classic rental car." Operators praised the Taurus for its low cost to operate, "bulletproof" reliability ("Steady and true. Seemed like the one you could always count on to get you there and back."), as well as its flexibility "as both a mid- and full-size rental." Its model longevity was a plus, as respondents referenced its "familiarity" and "endurance."
"Customers loved the reliability of a vehicle that hadn't changed much in almost 15 years," wrote one respondent. "Very few customer complaints-they knew what they were renting," wrote another.
Third Place: Ford Taurus (new design)
The new Ford Taurus got high marks for its styling, performance and overall quality. The new Taurus garnered comments such as "Customers like to drive this car; it's comfortable, reliable and easy to maintain," and "The model meets or exceeds all our expectations with regards to the customer experience, reliability and functionality."
Fourth Place: Toyota Corolla
The Toyota Corolla was praised for its high resale value, which translates into higher revenue per day and a very good return on investment. It was also cited numerous times for its reliability. This response: "Popular, dependable, maintenance free, good resale, positive customer response," sums up the sentiment in many of the comments.
Fifth Place: Chevrolet Impala
Operators particularly praised the Chevrolet Impala for its roomy, "six-passenger capability," its reliability ("the least amount of recalls in the last few years"), its "good fleet price" and "good gas mileage for a large sedan." Others mentioned the Impala as "user friendly, economical and easy to buy and sell."
Sixth Place: Hyundai Sonata
Hyundai has used the rental market to gain exposure for its new models. The move has paid off, as the manufacturer's quality improvements are getting noticed: "I still have Hyundai/Kia cars with 100,000 miles," wrote a respondent, while others wrote, "Least [number of] mechanical problems"; "Long-term reliability of vehicle, enabling long-term usage accompanied by the strong resale value."
Another referred to the Hyundai Sonata as "a great car to run in a rental fleet for 18- 24 months and sell directly to customers," and one wrote, "No bad reviews from customers and it is requested a lot, not to mention I like driving them compared to other vehicles on the list."
Seventh Place: Honda Accord
The Honda Accord made the top 10, even without the manufacturer actively pursuing the rental fleet market. Respondents praised the Accord for its strong resale value and its fuel economy, and called it a "customer favorite."
Eighth Place: Chrysler 300
The Chrysler 300 was praised for its comfort and features ("heated seats and satellite radio"; "electronic features are nice and easy to operate,") as well as its "luxurious, smooth ride," resulting in "customer satisfaction across a wide variety of demographics."
Ninth Place (tied): Ford Focus
The Ford Focus garnered praise for its low operating and maintenance costs. Respondents named it as "one of the most dependable vehicles, inexpensive to repair," and cited its "low cost, good longevity and durability, acceptable resale value considering low initial cost."
Ninth Place (tied): Nissan Altima
The Nissan Altima was praised for its customer experience, as respondents nominated it for its "customer confidence" and "customer general satisfaction" while calling it "an 'ask for' from customers."
"Nobody ever complains about it," wrote a respondent.
The Altima was also commended for its reliability, called "the least trouble of any vehicle we have owned or leased for the fleet."
Ninth Place (tied): Chevrolet Malibu
The Chevrolet Malibu garnered style points, in addition to its overall cost to operate and reliability. The Malibu was also named for its "car group flexibility."
"It's a mid-sized car that suits almost everyone's needs, and made by a great brand," wrote one respondent.
The Getaway Car
The Dodge Charger did not make the top 10, but was praised because "They rent as soon as they hit the ground." Others praised its "high profit margin."
However, one respondent is thinking twice before purchasing them again with a more powerful engine. "We were requested by the Newark Police to stop purchasing Chargers with Hemis," he wrote. "They couldn't 'catch' them. Needless to say we lost a few."
The Write-Ins and Noteworthy Comments
We chose to cover only high-volume sedans for this survey to limit the number of choices (35 models) and prevent information overload. Therefore crossovers, SUVs, pickups, luxury cars and exotics were excluded from the list.
However, that did not prevent respondents from choosing vehicles from those classes as write-in candidates.
Small SUVs and crossovers were noted for their versatility. The Ford Escape was nominated for its "Great functionality for customers. Good room for adults. Rents well as an SUV, mid- or full-size car with customers happy to accept it."
The Buick Rendezvous was praised because it "Functions as a car or an SUV, priced comparable to cars, inexpensive to upgrade customers and great resale."
The Ford Mustang collected several write-in votes. "Everybody likes this car," wrote one respondent. "It makes [customers] feel young and it is not that expensive, so customers think they are getting a bargain."
Two hailed the Ford Mustang Shelby GT, which is available exclusively through Hertz: "As a car guy, this was the pinnacle of rental cars"; "If you have driven one, you don't need to ask the question!"
Other write-ins included long-gone-but apparently not forgotten-models. One operator called the Dodge Aspen of the 1970s "indestructible," while another voted for the Dodge Dynasty, saying "[It] was probably the best 'workhorse' of the early 90s fleets and very popular with the general public at that time."
Nominating the first-generation (1970-1972) Chevrolet Monte Carlo, one operator wrote, "What else? Resale value, resale value, resale value!"
One called the 1977 Pontiac Grand Prix "the coolest drive ever."
And then there is this evaluation of the Dodge Aries, which puts the job of the car rental operator into perspective: "I lived to see the face of young hot rodders, who were ready to tear up my rental car over the weekend, when I handed them the keys to this pale green four-door, four-cylinder Dodge Aries, that did zero to 60 in three minutes. Thank you, Dodge, for keeping my fleet safe from the weekend warriors."