In his opening keynote address, Larry De Shon, executive vice president of operations at Avis Budget Group, gave us a look into the future of car rental through technology. He broke his talk into definable chunks, and so will we:
PCI compliance: Very briefly, it's an expensive and complicated process to protect your customer's credit card information, but essential.
Kiosks: De Shon said that Budget's Fastbreak kiosk is experiencing revenue gains by selling ancillary products such as LDW and Roadside Safety Net to the "bypass customer" that the company wouldn't usually have a chance to sell to. More Fastbreak kiosks are coming.
Mobile apps: Avis Budget has a feature that uses a smart phone's GPS capability to locate a stranded rental car and then send a signal to roadside service.
Electric vehicles: De Shon pointed out that although EVs have the media's imagination, the rollout is slow (in retail and rental). There will less than 1,000 EVs in rental fleets by end of this year. Infrastructure needs to catch up, and everyone is still learning how to integrate EVs into the model. In May, Avis will have three electric vehicles in LaGuardia for rent, with a charging station.
Service/repair: Technicians are now identifying problems in vehicles in rental return areas using OEM's diagnostics tools and sending/receiving info wirelessly. By identifying mechanical issues further upstream, vehicles can be triaged by problem severity. Damage writers are writing estimates miles away from the vehicle and parts can be ordered before the vehicle even makes it to maintenance.
Performance Metrics: "Customers want [their vendors] to own the problem. How many surveys have you filled out and not ever heard anything back?" De Shon asked.
AB collected customer feedback via surveys, but didn't provide tools for managers to do anything with information. AB built a portal to see survey results, sort customer's comments and track them back to the employees involved in the transactions. The result is that managers are now reaching out to customers on a service issue and are able to show them what's happening to fix the problem.
Virtual Car: This is where it gets exciting. De Shon noted that car sharing is still in its infancy, with less than 10,000 car-share cars on the road in total in the U.S.-which barely covers the fleet of a typical RAC airport operation. But the technology that allows car sharing to exist can be used in traditional car rental to automate and decentralize the rental process.
Virtual Car is Avis Budget's program that can be best described as "automated car rental." The company is equipping a fleet of 2,000 cars to deploy in Seattle; it interacts with AB's Wizard reservations system. The virtual car has an installed computer with GPS, helpful in large operations to instantly identify whether the car is in the shop or on the ready line.
The system can be used to expand an RAC's local market presence. Imagine a few cars parked at a corporate campus in designated parking areas. Company employees can reserve a car using a smart phone, which can also unlock the vehicle. The keys are in the car. Mileage is tracked, and gas consumption is measured to the 1/10th gallon. When finished, the vehicle can tell you-nicely-to get out of the car before it locks the doors on you.
Regardless of length of rental-hourly, weekly, whatever-this could be a game changer. In the local market, you could have a centrally located brick-and-mortar mother store that manages a disparate fleet situated conveniently for different rental situations. "Now the local market store is anywhere you can park five cars," said De Shon.
De Shon's closing point was that there are some things technology can't replace. "Don't think that technology will do everything for the customer like The Jetsons," De Shon said. "Technology should be used to save time, provide consistency and allow the renter to take more control of the process. Don't overlook the unlimited potential of your personnel."