Remember studying plate tectonics in school? It’s the theory of shifting continents. Some 6 million years ago, Earth was one big land mass that broke into eight different pieces. If you’re in the car rental business, have you felt the earth move under you recently?
We enter this year’s Car Rental Show (CRS) in a shifting landscape; more so than other years. We may not see this type of continental shift for a long time to come. Hertz and Dollar Thrifty are finally merging into one. With the acquisition of Zipcar, Avis is now the biggest car sharing company in the world. Advantage is reborn under new management and will grow to some 75 locations by the summer. And Sixt has planted its flag in the U.S.
Franchising is alive and well, as Sixt has launched its U.S. franchising initiative while Penske enters the ring under the Hertz banner and instantly becomes one of the biggest in the country. Overseas, Enterprise has been busy converting major independent car rental companies to Enterprise franchises.
And so we gather next week at CRS to make sense of it all. We’ll fill up on enough business intelligence, training, legislative and legal actions, product test drives, gossip, congratulations and meeting old friends to last the entire year. Where else can you get all this in two-and-a-half days?
Let me bring to your attention some changes and additions to this year’s show:
The hotel: You wanted out of the Hilton (now the LVH) and we responded. The Rio Hotel is set to deliver a fine CRS experience, so be sure to let us know if and how they came through with the promise. (Apologies to any Brazilian attendees who may still be hung over from this year’s Carnaval.)
A toast: Our Sunday night cocktail reception, implemented last year, is back. It’s another relaxed and more intimate opportunity to reconnect with old friends and make new ones. This year will have a commemorative ring to it, as we deliver a champagne toast to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Auto Rental News. To help walk us down memory lane I’ll have a few of the old magazine issues on hand, including our first issue. Judging from some of the photos in the articles, you all have matured gracefully. I mean that.
For our exhibitors: I’ve been working hard on the Car Rental Market Analysis seminar, which will take place before the cocktail reception on Sunday. This is a new, value-added seminar strictly for our esteemed exhibitors and suppliers. In addition to my 35,000-foot market overview, I’ll have John Healy of Northcoast Research on hand with insights into the market from an investment perspective, and Jim Tennant will discuss the rate/pricing environment.
Another first: The First Timer’s Orientation will take place 9:30a to 10:00a on Monday morning. We’ve instituted this with other Bobit events and have found it leads to a better experience for newcomers. I look forward to meeting you!
Keynote buzz: This year’s opening keynote speaker, Bud Denker of Penske, is directly responsible for Penske’s franchise operations. With 20 Hertz locations being converted to franchises, Penske is setting the example for what a large-scale, modern car rental franchisee will look like.
Welcome, Chinese car rental: On Monday we will have a delegation of executives from the China Road Transport Association in attendance. These executives run car rental businesses but are also involved in fleet leasing, chauffeured transportation and material handling and logistics. Look for them on the expo floor during our opening reception.
The foreign connection: Strong overseas representation continues this year, with operators from far-flung reaches such as United Arab Emirates, New Zealand, Spain, Argentina and Malaysia, to name a few. For the first time, exhibitors catering to international attendees will be identified with special signage.
ACRA on a roll: The American Car Rental Association enters CRS as strong as it’s ever been, with all the major car rental companies as members and, for the first time, auto manufacturers signing on as well. With pending national recall legislation and a number of new state excise taxes in the works, we’re grateful to see such a unified front fighting for industry concerns.
A new meeting: We’re excited to have the Avis Budget licensee association hold one of its annual meetings in conjunction with the show. I think the synergies will serve as a blueprint for other franchise systems to hold meetings in conjunction with CRS as well.
A surprise: I’m warning you in advance of a “surprise” that will take place at some point Tuesday morning. Be sure you make it to breakfast. I won’t say anything more, but it will be talked about for years to come.
Okay, time to get back to tying up all those loose ends. Safe travels and see you all next week!