Alamo, National Introduce Rental Car Check-In Kiosks

Car rental companies are taking a cue from the airlines by installing self-service kiosks that allow time-pressed customers to check in by themselves, no agent needed.

Tulsa, Okla.-based Vanguard Car Rental USA this week announced the launch of an automated kiosk system for its Alamo Rent A Car and National Car Rental brands that enables customers to avoid waiting in line.

The touch-screen kiosks will roll out this year and next year in dozens of Alamo and National locations. The company claims the kiosks cut check-in time by about 50 percent during tests in Dallas, Las Vegas and Jacksonville, Fla.

By next summer, Vanguard expects the service to be running at 73 National and 80 Alamo locations. (National has a total of 2,200 locations and Alamo has 1,600 nationwide.)

"It will be in all major markets," said Charles Pulley, communications director for Vanguard. He said targeted marketing for Alamo's family and leisure travelers, and National's business and corporate travelers, will include online advertising and print ads in travel and business publications, respectively. Most of the marketing effort will focus on Alamo, because National's Emerald Club already lets business travelers bypass the counter.

"There will be pop-ups, and other online ads of various kinds supporting messaging to vacationers, families and leisure travelers," Pulley said.

The company was motivated to pursue the plan by consumer acceptance of airline automated ticketing kiosks.

"Our IT platform allows us to execute this, and the public is already well-educated about kiosks, and love using them," he said.

Although the wait time to pick up a vehicle has improved 15 percent across all companies this year versus 2005, consumers still stand in line an average 21.5 minutes, according to J.D. Power and Associates' yearly Rental Car Satisfaction Study released this week.

According to J.D. Power, satisfaction drops to a below-average level for any wait time that exceeds five minutes.

Enterprise, the second-largest auto rental company after Hertz, took top honors for customer satisfaction for the third straight year. Enterprise is different in that it will pick up and drop off a customer from home.

Both Hertz and Cendant-owned Avis and Budget have tried kiosks in the past.

Last year, Avis experimented with kiosks at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport that offered service when the vehicle was returned. The Avis system allowed customers returning cars to check in for Delta Air Lines flights at Avis' shuttle bus stops.

Mike Carron, vice president of product and program development at Avis, said kiosks are not new--and not terribly important to customer satisfaction because they place the onus on the customer to have the right information on hand.

"Avis did it in the '80s, but we don't support kiosks now because we think customers prefer the 'high-touch' approach," he said.

Instead, Avis is rolling out an in-car and portable navigation system, called Where2, which is now at 130 of its rental locations. The portable unit is Bluetooth-capable, offers live traffic updates, and automatic rerouting, and has MP3 compatibility, according to Carron. Where2 will be rolled out to Canada in February and then nationwide in the U.S.

Avis is also running new national TV ads touting XM satellite radio as a standard feature on higher-end vehicles.