Tag Archives: car hire

A Brief History of the Car Rental Industry

The Early Days of Car Rental

The earliest days of the car rental industry are shrouded in some mystery. Unsurprisingly, it seems to have started in the United States.

However, the general consensus of opinion seems to be that the first commercial car rental was done by a Joe Saunders from Nebraska.

model t ford for rent
Model T Ford – the first rental car?

Joe, apparently, started out by renting out his Model T Ford at 10 cents per mile – using a mileage meter to count the miles travelled. A nice little story is that the first rental was to a travelling salesman who rented Joe’s Model T in order to impress his local date! We don’t know if that’s true but it has a nice ring to it!

Joe went from strength to strength. By 1925 he had car rental agencies in 21 states! However, just as everything was going nicely along cam the Depression and Joe was forced into bankruptcy.

Concurrently with Joe Saunders’ successful years a Walter Jacobs was also developing a car rental business. He survived and sold his business to the owner of Yellow Cab – a John Hertz. In due course Hertz sold out to the mighty General Motors. With their massive investment in the business Hertz became the leader and is still the largest car rental company in the world today.

After World War II the car rental industry really came into it’s own. Because of air travel businessmen started flying to their appointments – what did they need when they arrived at their destination but a rental car!

Airport Car Rental – A New Opportunity

Around this time an ex army pilot named Warren Avis realised the potential and concentrated on providing car rental from airports. By concentrating on airport rentals for business travel, Avis grew to be the second largest car rental company in the world – second only to Hertz and today have gobbled up competitors such as Budget.

In the 70s and 80s the big car rental companies started into the used car sales business – by selling off their older cars direct to the public. Some major car manufacturing companies tried takeovers in order to ensure that the car rental companies bought their huge fleets from them!

After 9/11 car rental companies were badly affected as a result in the decline in air travel. However, recent years has shown an upsurge in the industry and the Internet has spawned a plethora of car rental brokers. These brokers, with their lower overheads and huge buying power, are often able to undercut the very car rental companies from whom they obtain their rentals!

A Personal Car Rental Story

A little personal anecdote. Back in the mid fifties I was living in Montreal. Every Friday evening I would fly to Ottawa to visit my girlfriend (in those days Ottawa airport had a grass runway!

I had a standing reservation for a rental car every week – supplied by Tilden, Canada’s answer to Avis. One Friday I arrived at Ottawa and went straight to the Tilden office (then, it was a wooden “shed”!). No car and no staff!

I called the emergency number provided and, in due course, a gentleman in a white Tuxedo arrived with my car. That man was Walter Tilden, the President! In the absence of any staff he had come personally, from a party, to bring me my car. Needless to say I was very impressed with the service – but not nearly as impressed as I was twenty years later when I found myself again in Montreal on business. I contacted Walter Tilden and was amazed to find he remembered the incident! (Maybe I was the cause of him missing a really good party!). Tilden was subsequently taken over by National Car Rental.

Renting A Car

renting a car through Aspect
Renting a car

If you decide you want to rent a car you may think it just means that you book on line or call a car hire company and that’s it. Sadly that’s not strictly true. For example, let’s say you want what is termed a ‘compact’ car. You look on the site and see that a VW Golf is cited as the ‘typical’ model. You may own one and know and like it, you may want to try one just for the fun of it. You book the car and get you booking confirmation and you think all is well.

Fast forward to the day you pick up the car, to your dismay you’re given the keys to a Skoda Fabia. What to do? Nothing is the answer because cars are booked by the group size not make and model. You may think this is nothing to worry about or, like many you may get quite upset. This is not the reason you should worry however, it’s all a matter of size, when it comes to booking the right hire car, size does matter!

My husband is 6′ tall, he fits into a Kia Venga but not the Golf, he has a spinal fracture so can’t bend as much as others but it was the actual headroom that was the problem. You can usually up-grade to a bigger group at pick up but usually that costs more than booking a bigger group from the start.