Poor Economy Cuts Rental Car Satisfaction Rates

car rentalsFor the past few years, automakers have accelerated efforts to reduce sales of new cars and trucks to daily rental fleets because such sales can hurt residuals and damage brand equity--especially if consumers don't have a good experience with the rental vehicle or service.

A new study by J.D. Power and Associates suggests that they aren't having as good an experience as they once were. The Westgate Village, Calif. firm's Associates 2008 Rental Car Satisfaction Study, in its 13th year, says customer satisfaction with renting cars at airports has declined considerably for a second consecutive year.

The study, based on over 13,400 surveys of business and leisure travelers between October 2007 and October 2008, measures satisfaction with renting cars at airports. The study bases results on fees, the pick-up process, the rental car, the reservation and the return process and shuttle service. Overall satisfaction declines significantly from 750 points on a 1,000-point scale in 2007 to 734 in 2008.



Jim Gaz, senior director of global hospitality, travel and entertainment at J.D. Power and Associates, says the problem is the economy, which is hurting rental fleets' ability to keep full staffing as business travelers and tourists cut back on air travel.

"Some leisure and business travelers are avoiding air travel altogether, which has ramifications for airport-based rental car companies in terms of a shrinking customer base and decreasing revenues," he says.

For the fifth year, the firm puts Enterprise on top of rental fleets in customer satisfaction. After Enterprise comes Hertz and Alamo, respectively, with Alamo improving from 2007. Below industry average were Avis, Budget, Thrifty, Dollar, Payless and Advantage Rent-A-Car.

The firm says critical factors include clean vehicles in good operating condition, customers getting the models that they reserve, and brief wait times for vehicle pickup and drop-off. The study also finds that by a wide margin, customers with the highest levels of satisfaction and high commitment to a particular rental car brand are much more likely to use that company again and to recommend the company to others, compared with the average customer.

Among customers who are highly committed, 86% said they "definitely will" use the company again, and 88% said they "definitely will" recommend the company to others. By contrast, among customers who say they have a medium commitment, only 21% said they "definitely will" use the brand again.

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