As gas prices push past $4 a gallon, car rental companies see green

by Christopher Elliott on May 29, 2008

Car rental companies are trying to cash in on higher gas prices and America’s newfound fascination with all things green. The latest is Advantage Rent A Car, which earlier this week declared its commitment to becoming “the first major all green car rental company in the United States.”

It’s hardly the first — Hertz rolled out a fleet of hybrid vehicles two years ago — and it definitely won’t be the last. But is Advantage really seeing the light when it comes to carbon emissions or just another greenwashing travel company?

A skeptical observer might be forgiven for thinking the latest initiative is nothing more than a fleet upgrade with a clever spin. Here’s what its press release had to say:

Wearing a bright green shirt Tuesday at the American Car Rental Show in Las Vegas, Denny Hecker, Chairman of Advantage Rent A Car, surprised conference attendees by announcing Advantage Rent A Car is committed to become the first major all green car rental company in the United States.

“Our single ownership and nimble fleet size provide us the ability to make a commitment to reduce our carbon footprint in the United States,” says Denny Hecker. “Advantage will offer its customers an environmentally friendly rental alternative, while trying to make a difference in the places where our customers live.”

Advantage has made the commitment to turn 100% of its fleet “green” over the next 24 months subject to manufacturers’ assistance and vehicle availability.

Come on. Hecker “surprised” conference attendees? Coming from a reporter I might buy it.

Coming from a press release, no.

Here’s what’s probably happening. More people want smaller cars that consume less gas. And companies like Advantage and Hertz are just adding more of those vehicles to their rental inventory. That’s what the Arizona Republic reported just before the Memorial Day weekend.

Abraham Rodriquez, manager of Budget Rent A Car’s central reservations center in Los Angeles, said that demand for compact and subcompact cars has increased with gas prices and that many locations quickly run out of those vehicles. As a result Budget is retooling its fleet to include more compact and subcompact cars and fewer gas guzzlers.

Car rental companies are omitting one key piece of information, though. They can — and will — charge us more for these smaller, more fuel efficient rentals if they’re given the opportunity.

So thanks to higher gas prices, car rental companies are seeing green.

After all, that’s the color of money.

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  • J. Smith

    I’d reserved a compact car for a 4-day trip. AVIS told me they were out of compacts and was going to “triple-upgrade” me to a Ford Expedition. I asked for something smaller. Their next offer was for a “sport wagon”, which brought up visions of a small Subaru or the like.

    After the long walk to the lot, and passing by lots of AVIS compact and economy cars, we found our Chevy Uplander, another monstrous vehicle seating 8 or 9. We took the car and grumbled the entire weekend about being “taken”.

    It seems the rental companies have a lot of these over-sized gas-guzzlers, and are doing anything they can to put mileage on them to offset depreciation.

    J. Smith

  • Anthony Sogg

    I have reserved small cars in the past knowing that I would likely be upgraded at no charge. When on vacation with my family I prefer something roomier but prefer the smaller price. Last year I did this in Calgary and was upgraded to a Ford Escape which was great for our drive threw Banff and Jasper National Parks. My worst case experience was having to pay 6 euros for an one week upgrade to a Mazda 6 wagon in Dresden, Germany three years ago. Of course, if you want an economy car, something bigger may not seem like an upgrade.

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