RM Tips and Strategy

Car Rental Fleet Management: Separating Myth from Reality

Car rental businesses often maintain large fleets for various logical and sometimes less evident reasons. Here's how RateHighway aims to debunk some common myths and misconceptions.

March 1, 2024
4 min read
Michael Meyer

Customer Preferences and Pricing Strategy

While it's believed that customer preferences for specific vehicle types drive fleet diversity, the truth often lies in the pricing strategy. Most demand, whether retail or corporate, is price-driven, not vehicle-specific. Except for niche demands like 7-seaters in summer or SUVs in winter, pricing dictates 90% of rental decisions. This suggests a need for car rental companies to align their fleet acquisition strategies more closely with demand and pricing trends rather than assumed customer preferences for diversity.

Demand Peaks and Revenue Management

The conventional wisdom suggests keeping surplus vehicles to meet peak demand periods is necessary. However, this is only partially true. Advanced car rental operators employing sophisticated revenue management techniques find it more profitable to prioritize certain bookings over striving for universal accommodation. This selective approach, informed by a detailed analysis of each segment's financial contribution, allows for optimizing profitability through strategic demand management.

Fleet Utilization and Rate Shop Insights

Contrary to the belief that a large fleet guards against maintenance downtime, the idle ratio typically remains below 3%. Yet, strategic fleet size does play a crucial role in ensuring immediate service availability, particularly in managing the operational challenges posed by long-haul travel schedules and their impact on vehicle turnover times.

Strategic Location Management

The necessity of a large fleet to service widespread locations is undeniable. However, innovative strategies can reduce the need for large vehicle stocks at smaller branches. Solutions range from minimizing base fleet sizes and supplementing as needed, to leveraging a network of agents or sub-franchisees to enhance operational flexibility and reduce costs.

Business Agreements and Fleet Size

Business contracts with corporations or insurance providers do necessitate a ready fleet to fulfill obligations. Yet, the pursuit of these high-volume but lower-yield contracts often overlooks the hidden costs associated with specific client demands. A critical review of these agreements' actual profitability is essential for maintaining a healthy balance between fulfilling contractual commitments and ensuring operational profitability.

The Resale Value Consideration

The car rental business model extends beyond mere vehicle rental to include significant revenue from the resale of used vehicles. Some operators build their profitability model around this resale, affecting fleet size decisions. Current market conditions have bolstered the used car market, highlighting the importance of a robust car rental reservation system backed by effective yield management for sustaining profitability.

Managing Fleet Size for Cost Efficiency

Recent trends have seen operators keeping vehicles longer in their fleets, influenced by delivery delays and economic factors such as rising interest rates. This strategic retention reflects a cautious approach to fleet management, aiming to mitigate higher future costs and navigate uncertain market conditions effectively.

Non-Rational Drivers of Fleet Sizing

The fear of missing out (FOMO) after a successful season often prompts operators to increase their fleet size prematurely, based on speculative demand forecasts. This approach, lacking in solid yield management foundations, poses significant risks to future profitability.

The Role of Revenue Management

Implementing a robust revenue management process, powered by advanced yield optimization tools, has proven to enhance performance and profitability for car rental companies. RateHighway demonstrates that with the right processes and tools, car rental businesses can navigate even the most challenging market conditions successfully.

In conclusion, while the car rental industry faces numerous pressures influencing fleet size decisions, a balanced approach informed by accurate demand forecasting, strategic pricing, and effective revenue management can significantly enhance operational efficiency and profitability. RateHighway's insights into these dynamics offer valuable strategies for navigating the complex landscape of car rental fleet management.

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