In terms of technology and technological development the car hire industry has always had a somewhat poor reputation. In the wider sense it has often been regarded as an industry that is less than receptive of change, an industry that would prefer to carry on car hire operations as they have been carried out for generations. One thing has certainly changed in the car hire industry in the last twenty years however, as increased competition has become readily apparent, a unique customer focus has had to have been developed by all the major players to ensure their survival.
Like many industries the car hire industry has had to cope with increasing calls by eco-lobbyists to go green. The effects of global warming are increasingly affecting our way of life and in the realm of car hire this is no different. As technologies are developed to reduce the impact that car hire companies are having upon the environment, these technologies are being offered to tweak our environmental conscience. This is in no way an industry-wide phenomenon but there are now enough companies employing eco strategies to regard it as a trend. As more and more customers demand services that are eco-friendly, it is understandable that certain companies are using eco strategies to entice custom and trade.
The most widespread form of eco-strategy has been the introduction of hybrid cars into car hire fleets. While this may look great to customers when purveying the company literature, many environmental commentators have criticised this type of policy as a gesture that only goes half way to tackling the problems of climate change. It is true that hybrid cars produce lower emissions than their regular counterparts but the feasibility of using fuel sources such as bio-fuel and hydrogen has still not been fully researched. A fact that environmental campaigners are acutely aware of; especially when considering bio-fuel, that uses swathes of land that could instead be used for the raising of crops.
There is also the argument that for car hire companies to truly become more eco-friendly it is essential that they work towards changing the way customers use their hire cars. While this may not be in their interests in terms of generated profits, it is still being introduced by some forward thinking companies. One way in which this is being done is by changing the way in which rates and tariffs are calculated. The major shift has been from hire on a daily basis to an hourly structure of charges. It is hoped that by doing this, the number of hire cars on the road at any one time can be reduced and subsequently the negative impact on both the environment and congestion will be lessened.
It is not however purely environmental changes that have been felt in the car hire industry in recent years. After many high profile cases where organised criminals had managed to steal large proportions of fleets, security has become a major concern in the industry. One of the methods that has been employed is the fitting of GPS trackers into many fleet vehicles. Acting like a black box on an aeroplane it is possible for companies to track the whereabouts of all their vehicles at any one time; especially useful after a theft. As well as these GPS devices, an increasingly common sight at car hire desks is a thumb print reader that records all of the customers thumb prints digitally. As with many spheres of life, biometric data is becoming an ever more fundamental part of the car rental process.
While new technologies may be initially resisted by those in the industry, it does not take a great deal of time for their benefits to be realised. The security measures will undoubtedly spread rapidly as they actively work towards protecting fleets. What might take longer is the introduction of eco-strategies; these policies will not bring immediate profits and hence will be resisted. The only way for a greener car hire industry to become apparent is to keep up the demand for eco-friendly options when we are at the rental desk.
Expert Thomas Pretty looks into ways in which the car hire industry is tackling the environmental and security problems it faces.