Missed Opportunity for Car Makers: Rental

I often marvel at the fact that car manufacturers don’t make more of an effort to rent new cars to potential buyers. I suppose they do, in a way: Hertz is owned by Ford, for example, and they certainly showcase the cars of Ford and its divisions (Mazda, Volvo, etc.). But you’d think that if you were a “minor” manufacturer like Smart, VW or Toyota, you’d try to figure out a way of putting your cars in people’s hands.

I’m talking about something more than a test drive. Even “take the car home for the weekend,” which seems quite common, at least if the dealer knows you (or you have another car you can leave behind). It seems to me that putting an interested, motivated potential customer behind the wheel of your car for their business trip or vacation would be an excellent opportunity to addict them to your product.

Manufacturers, it seems, do not agree with me. Witness these two email messages, received in reply to a “I’m traveling for a week in New England and want to rent one of your cars from Montreal” query email. First from Smart:

Thank you for your interest in smart. While we appreciate your interest in smart, unfortunately, we are not familiar on whether any car rental companies have the smart brand as part of their rental fleet in Canada. You may wish to do an online search of rental car companies in the Montréal area for further information. My apologies that we couldn’t provide further assistance at this time.

And then from Toyota:

Toyota Canada Inc. is not involved in the rental of Toyota vehicles and as such, we do not have a list of car rental services that have the Prius in their fleet. However, we suggest that you contact some Toyota dealerships within your area to inquire about the rental of the Prius from the dealership. As well, the dealerships may be aware of rental companies that offer the Prius in your area.

So here’s me, a potential customer who went out of his way to find your website and send you an email, a potential customer who will pay you money to evaluate your $20,000+ product. And what do you say? “Not our department.”


paul's picture
paul on September 23, 2005 - 01:16 Permalink

Umm, might it not be a problem for their dealer networks if the manufacturer started dealing directly with customers?

And is there a sufficient incentive for a manufacturer to get into the rental business and compete with its existing rental clients? I can see doing something with FlexCar (Honda makes its hybrid vehicles available there), but starting up a whole new business?

I don’t know about where you are, but there’s no shortage of demand for the Prius here: why would they need to rent one to you (or anyone)?

And as for taking the trouble to find their website and send them an email … you’re kidding, right?

Daniel's picture
Daniel on September 23, 2005 - 03:16 Permalink

This likely doesn’t have anything to do with the auto manufacturers,but you can rent Smart cars and Prius cars in Toronto by the hour quite cheaply, which would be a great way to get to know the vehicle prior to purchase. http://www.autoshare.com/ I’ve been tempted to give them a go some weekend just to go buy gelato at La Paloma…

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on September 23, 2005 - 04:32 Permalink

That’s not quite “rental,” at least in the traditional sense: “AutoShare is a Membership-based service. To join AutoShare there is a one-time, $500 Membership fee. It’s fully transferable. Like a deposit, you can get this back if you decide to leave.” An expenseive gelato.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on October 5, 2005 - 19:02 Permalink

Just in case you’ve ended up here because you want to rent a Smart car in Montreal, you can contact Location Pelletier in Laval, 450-681-2833. As of this writing, they rent the Smart fourtwo for $150CDN/day, with 300 free km and 20 cents/km over that.

Stephen's picture
Stephen on July 13, 2006 - 20:11 Permalink

I’m in the same boat…going to Thunder Bay for a week and looking to rent a Prius or Honda Hybrid. Discount has the Prius-but not in T. Bay it seems. Back to Google I go…

johann beda's picture
johann beda on July 27, 2006 - 21:24 Permalink

Discount used to rent Priuses locally (Peterborough), but they don’t have any at least when I want one. I told the phone person to make a note of their loss of a rental, and followed that up with a note on their website feedback page, and then rented a “regular” car from someone else. I imagine that if enough people tell them what they want, they will give it to us.

But it does seem as though the automaker could get some improved exposure if they made more effort in keeping track of where their cars were available — surely the rental places would also like the exposure. A page at “toyota-rental.ca” that lists all the places that will rent you a Toyota would be easier for Toyota Canada to maintain than it is for me to track down that information…