By Robert Reeve of Transfercar, a web-based free car rental service based in Australia
The way in which we, as consumers, view our use of cars has changed dramatically throughout recent history.
Ever since cars became big in the west, they gradually moved from luxury items to become something that anyone who wanted to be an active member in society had to have.
Now, with fuel costs at a record high, road taxes more controversial than ever before, and personal finances tight, these views are changing once again.
More people are choosing to give up car ownership and be a little more flexible in their habits; for example, using hire cars when driving is essential, then using other transport the rest of the time.
These changes are fuelling, in turn, an evolution in the car hire sector. Most of us know how traditional car rental works.
You book in the office or over the phone – or, in recent years, online for a small discount – pay the money, and then pick up the car from the site or have it delivered to your home.
‘Back in the day,’ no-one gave much consideration to how inconvenient this is, as car hire was relatively rare.
Today, as rental cars become more popular and widely used, it has become clear that this model is unsustainable for modern consumers.
The internet and mobile technology has changed the way we live our lives, particularly in the last four or five years. They are also both main factors helping to drive the evolution of the car rental sector.
Now, rather than following the ‘old school’ path, the way rental firms do business is being revolutionised.
Rather than make a booking for each vehicle, regular users are encouraged to sign up to an annual membership, and then in effect ‘pay as they drive.’
Zipcar, recently purchased by rental giant Avis, has been the pioneers of this model. The best thing is that there is no going to the office to pick up vehicles.
Once users have booked a car, they simply head to its location. This allows renters to select vehicles that are near to their home, saving time and being much more convenient than the old way.
Zipcar users, for example, use a ‘zipcard’ that they hold to a car’s windscreen to open the vehicle.
Other companies are using smartphone apps to lock and unlock cars, at which point the renter can find the keys in the glove-box, or elsewhere in the vehicle.
With the cost of owning a car becoming more and more prohibitive, the rental market will certainly grow in the coming years.
Companies such as Zipcar, who are pioneering convenient car rental at competitive rates, are certain to lead the way through this evolutionary period.