What will your next rental car know about you? Everything


I had a chance to see the car rental of the future yesterday, and it’s a smart set of wheels.

The preview, which was part of the unveiling of Hertz’ upgraded location at San Diego International Airport, was meant to show off the first of several new facilities designed to bring you a “completely new” car rental experience.

The changes are impressive. Hertz is streamlining the rental process to prevent long wait times for rental vehicles with “virtual” kiosks that videoconference you with a representative in an Oklahoma City call center. It released a new app that send you shuttle wait times and is installing recharging stations and printing facilities for business travelers.

“This newly upgraded facility is a glimpse into our — and our car rental’s — future,” Hertz CEO Mark Frissora said. “We’ve combined technology and design to completely rethink what a rental location and experience should be.”

The airport location is a dramatic departure from a traditional rental facility. Gone are the rental counters, the lines and even some of the employees (they’ve been replaced with remote ones, available via video uplink).

Hertz also showed off some of its new “prestige” collection vehicles, including a Ferrari and a Tesla.

But the really interesting part came after the formal presentation and tour, when I had a chance to talk to Frissora about some of his new initiatives.

NeverLost gets clever. Hertz is rolling out a new NeverLost navigation system later this year that will make KITT, that talking car from 1980s TV show Knight Rider, looks like a dummy. Every car will receive of the new consoles, which will let you video conference with a representative if you have questions about your rental or if you need to buy an upgrade. Yes, it still handles directions, but Hertz will charge you for that feature when you activate it.

Your car sees everything. New cars will have upgraded tracking technology that will go beyond following the exact GPS location of each vehicle. It will also allow the company to “see” the inside of each car and to remotely start and stop the vehicle. Hertz assured me it will only use the tech when a car has been stolen or after it’s been returned, not when you’re renting. But still, who knew that was even possible?

They know when you filled the tank, so don’t lie. Thanks to electronic fuel metering, every new vehicle can tell you exactly how much gas is in the tank, and whether it’s completely full. Hertz loses $50 million a year from renters who don’t return their cars on “F” and this would fix it once and for all. It would also eliminate the need to prove you filled up the tank by showing a receipt, which is a pet peeve for renters.

One item that won’t be making an appearance at the car rental location of the future is CRVIS, the system that photographs your car before and after the rental to check for damage. Frissora told me it was too expensive and that consumers didn’t like it. But he promised Hertz was working on new technologies to address the problem of documenting pre-existing damage.

Will these new gadgets be good for consumers? As is so often the case with new technologies, it’s the application of the it that will answer the question. And for that, we will just have to wait.

Who benefits more from this new technology?

View Results

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Nancy Nally

    the system for documenting the state of a car when it is rented is “too expensive and consumers didn’t like it.” Let’s try runnning that through a truth translator…”the system cost us too much money because we couldn’t rip off consumers with fake damage claims anymore and consumers won’t like when we jack car rental rates because of it.” Yup, that sounds about right.

  • Kevin Murray

    It’s sad they have chosen to not continue with CRVIS, especially since it seems like most of the R&D on the system was done and testing was going well. CRVIS is one of those things that should be required of all car rental facilities. The burden to prove who damaged a rental car should be on the car rental company and not the consumer. I should not have to take pictures of my rental car (something I do) just to CYA (Cover Your Assets) myself later.

  • Bill___A

    So why wouldn’t the poll offer the option of “both”?
    “Who knew that was even possible”? Why wouldn’t you know that is possible? You can facetime with your iphone from just about anywhere, Why can’t a device in a car have a camera in it and transmit? Hardly rocket science nowadays.
    The problem with their electronic record of the pre-existing damage is that they don’t show you what damage they have documented. So when I rent a car and there are scratches on it and the agent doesn’t give me a damage form, saying “they don’t do that anymore” then I do not have a good feeling about it because I am not going to want to pay for scratches I didn’t do. That’s an oversight and that’s probably why “consumers didn’t like it”. They should be able to figure this out.

    I’m pretty sure they have been tracking just about everything they can about their cars. And I don’t blame them.
    I make sure the tank is full when I return the car. They don’t lose any of that $50 million on me.
    Hertz is a good company, I look forward to their innovations. And if they can get rid of a few employees, although I would generally think it is sad, because just about all of their employees are great, there are a couple at the LAX return area that I could suggest being first in line. Someone dawdling (with attitude) in the area where I am supposed to put the car is a pain in the butt. Fortunately, that’s only happened once so far.

  • Mark

    It’s refreshing for you to peel away that thin vernier of pr/fluff from ‘corporate-speak’, thank you for the public service, Nancy. I guess Chris was just reporting what was said so that his loyal, independent-minded ‘ditto-heads’ would have some fresh meat to tear into…

  • Dutchess

    The answer is always the company. If it only benefited the consumer, and they couldn’t charge for it there’s no way they would install the technology. This is why they haven’t implemented a pretty simple drive through camera system that would allow them to have a visual record of a car as it’s rented and returned. It would make it more difficult to pin damage claims on unsuspecting people and possibly get multiple people to pay for the same damage.

  • Dutchess

    Por que no los dos?!?

  • John Keahey

    Of course it benefits the company, otherwise they wouldn’t do any of it. Doing things for the good of the customer is not in their, nor most companies’, DNA. (In your job, I think you know that, Chris, but can’t really say since Hertz is one of your sponsors — a fact you should mention to us readers so we can keep your enthusiastic remarks in perspective.) That said, I am generally pleased with Hertz and rent many times from it every year as a Gold Card member. Things like the navigation system: It will be there in all cars in the hope that the customer will break down and use it and then automatically get charged for it, which can’t happen now if we refuse the device. And the $50 million loss for fuel? When the needle is fully engaged on F at turn-in, I’m sure they don’t top the tank off to ensure that the needle is really fully engaged. It’s the next renter who gets less gas when it is not completely topped off. And when a renter forgets to fill the tank, he/she is charged an large per-gallon fee at turn-in, so I am not sure where the $50 mill loss comes in. At any rate, I’m a happy — but not naive — Hertz customer. But it does sound like there will be fewer and fewer actual employees to talk face to face with at the rental facility, just faces on a monitor at their kiosks.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Hertz is not a sponsor of this site and doesn’t influence my editorial coverage in any way. If that were true, then I would have never pointed out that it abandoned CRVS or that it has the ability to spy on its customers. And I certainly wouldn’t have asked the poll question. That said, I’m pretty enthusiastic about the redesigned car rental location. It’s a big improvement.

  • California_Dave

    This is just our capialist system in practice. Technology is used primarily to increase profit – period. This can mean using technology to reduce expensive labor costs, prevent loss of revenue, efficiently manage assets, and yes, increase customer satisfaction and retention by speeding up the rental process and providing conveniences that are attractive to renters. Only time will tell if this technology works, because after all, it is the customer that determines that. I’m all for companies that take risks, as long as am happy with the product and SERVICE. Fortunately, rental car companies do not have government sanctioned monopolies in most markets (unlike the airlines) so our ability to choose keeps them somewhat honest.

  • http://phoenixjustice.blogspot.com/ Phoenix Justice

    The only upside I can possibly see (and it is a very faint upside) is the ability to get your rental vehicle faster. Of course, that does rely heavily on their video-conferencing working correctly at least 95% of the time.

    Otherwise, I only see downside, especially since they have refused to implement CRVIS.

  • John Keahey

    I guess the operative statement is “of this site”. Which of your, or your family’s sites is it a sponsor? That said, I’m not challenging your ethics. You have proven to be a tough, good consumer advocate. That’s why I read you every day. I just believe that when journalists or consumer advocates or columnists or bloggers write about something they might have a conflict with, it should be disclosed. And if I’m wrong and Hertz in no way, shape, or form is a sponsor for you or your family, I will apologize.

  • MarkKelling

    So there will be even fewer employees at each location to look at your car with you when you rent and return it to check for damage.

    If you do need to talk to a live body, the lines will be even longer since there will be fewer people on site.

    They are not going to use the damage tracking camera system because it levels the field on damage claims instead of providing additional advantage to Hertz.

    And I fail to see how Hertz is loosing $50 million on gas unless their employees are filling their own tanks for free! They currently charge you $9.50 per gallon (about $6 more than the going price for gas in the area) at the Hertz location I rent from most often when the tank is not showing full at return. And that is for all the gallons they calculate the vehicle would have used given miles traveled and MPG for city driving, not how many gallons they actually put into the vehicle. If you chose the refill option with the lower per gallon charge, you also pay for a full tank not the number of gallons they need to add to the tank to fill it up. So unless you are pushing the car into the return area with a completely empty fuel tank, they are making money.

    And how do they charge you for not returning the Tesla “full”? :-)

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    I understand your concern. I don’t have any involvement in Away is Home’s day-to-day operation. The site also has a strict ethics policy. We go out of our way to avoid the appearance of a conflict.

  • K

    I recently travelled to Iceland where we rented a car for a week from an American based company. I was very pleasantly surprised at the efficent but detailed process of checking damage. An emplyee did a full walkaround with us. He had a printout out with a sketch and detailed description of every preexisting scratch and scrape. When we returned, we did another walkaround to make sure everything looked good. So it IS possible! I guess there are a lot of rock and dirt road damages so that might be extra motivation for the company…

  • jm71

    EXACTLY — I was about to call BS on the “consumers didn’t like it” reason also; I rented from Alamo recently in Las Vegas, and I was happy to see the multiple cameras at the exit.

    If the agency wants to claim the renter caused damage, it should absolutely have the burden of proof. If they can’t produce pictures from my exit and entry to the lot, they should not be allowed to charge, much less turn innocent consumers over to their collection agency.

  • mbods

    Question… why would Hertz need the ability to spy on it’s customers? Can anyone describe a scenario?

  • EdB

    Define what you mean by spying. I read several ways they could “spy”.

    In car video – can be used if the car is stolen to video who is in the car for later prosecution.
    GPS – can be used if the car is stolen to direct the police to the car’s location (think Lojack).

  • EdB

    “Frissora told me it was too expensive and that consumers didn’t like it”

    I wish Chris would have gotten more information on this. Too expensive? Yet the video conferencing/remote access to the vehicles is not? And consumers didn’t like it? Which consumers and why?

  • EdB

    “The only upside I can possibly see (and it is a very faint upside) is the ability to get your rental vehicle faster.”

    As a gold club member, it was really fast to get my car at the locations that had the gold club rental area. Go to the lot. Find your name on the board. Go to the spot listed for you. Get in the car and drive off. Just wish they would have put those in more locations.

  • MarkKelling

    GPS – to track you if you take your vehicle out of the area you are limited to by the rental agreement. i.e. Ireland to Northern Ireland. Or off paved roads anywhere.

  • EdB

    “Fortunately, rental car companies do not have government sanctioned monopolies in most markets”

    True, but with the bigger companies buying up the smaller ones, there are only going to be about 3 parent companies at the rate things are going. Hertz, Avis, and Enterprise.

  • fshaff

    I believe Enterprise has restrictions on how far you can travel out of your rental state. Example: my son rented in NH but could not go beyond VA without being charged for extra mileage. The GPS /tracker system could be used to determine that and then they would be able to charge the renter for that.

  • EdB

    Is that really spying? I would say that is them protecting their assets. I would all depend on how the information was used. A problem existing in a lot of technology these days. If you have a cellphone with GPS, the cell companies, and a lot of other apps you may install, have the ability to track where you go. It is how the information is used and if it is disclosed the information is being gathered that, to me, determines if it is spying. Spying, by definition, is gathering information in secret. If it is disclosed, then it is not spying, it is tracking.

  • EdB

    See my response to MarkKelling.

  • Trudi

    I agree with you, EdB. I’ve dealt with Hertz for years, and their customer service has improved yearly. The Gold Club has made my experiences more comfortable. I do go over the car thoroughly before I get in and if there is a scratch, dent, color difference, broken aything, I insist it be documented and photograph it WITH an employee in the photo. That’s only happened once in three years. Adding their extra security doesn’t worry me much.

  • http://phoenixjustice.blogspot.com/ Phoenix Justice

    But not everyone is a Gold Club member. There are those of us who only rent a vehicle when we go on vacation. So a quick experience getting that vehicle is a plus.

  • http://phoenixjustice.blogspot.com/ Phoenix Justice

    I doubt if there was even one “consumer” that didn’t like CRVIS. It is an empty statement. No, the true “cost” of CRVIS was that they couldn’t charge someone for damage so easily.

  • EdB

    Anyone can be a Gold Club member. Most people quality for free membership and don’t even know it. At least it used to be last I checked.

  • emanon256

    Seriously, they spent money on technology to eliminate the need to show a receipt, which is absolutely not trouble at all for an honest person, because it’s a, “pet peeve for renters.” But they won’t spend money on technology to photograph the car before and after because, “consumers didn’t like it.” Whoa re these consumers they are polling? Let me guess, they are Hertz accountants. These two policies are clearly benefiting Hertz and not consumers. They can just continue to rent damaged cars and charge everyone fore pre-existing damage while trying to lure new people with “Technology.”

  • emanon256

    Still is. Used it in Hawaii last month and hadn’t rented from Hertz in several years.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Mark, this comment has been flagged by another reader and reviewed by our moderators. Technically, it violates our comments policy, and I wanted to be on record as acknowledging it.

    That said, we are not going to remove it. I agree with you: this event was a PR opportunity for Hertz. I probably should have been more skeptical. Rest assured, when I get my first complaint about electronic fuel metering, they will be hearing from me.

  • Cybrsk8r

    GPS is perfectly understandable. The ability to remotely disable the vehicle is likewise logical. But the ability to peek in on who’s in the car is a little creepy. Who, in the company, is going to have access to this system? I can see an employee deciding that an attractive female customer warrants some “additional monitoring”.

  • EdB

    I understand your concern about the camera. It would be similar to that situation where the school district turned on the cameras in the laptops given to the students. It is a valid concern and something Hertz needs to address. Maybe an indicator that the camera is active? But if someone is really concerned, I guess they could just cover the camera lens when they rent it.

  • KarlaKatz

    The ability to see inside the car..???? Shriek! Without elaboration, I will only say, those folks at the other end of the camera are in for some real treats when I rent a car… :-)

  • MarkKelling

    Not calling it spying. Just pointing out another use for the GPS. The two you pointed out are supported by everyone, except the thieves. Mine was a valid use that probably won’t be supported by most customers.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I think they just ended the pretense that anyone actually paid for Gold Club membership. From what I can tell the fee was primarily so they had something to “give away” for free.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    One of the car rental companies (I think Dollar) was collecting location and speed information without disclosing that to customers so that if they sped, or took the car into another state, the rental company would disallow all discounts and charge a penalty feefor breach of the contract.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I agree the receipt thing is dubious, but in fairness, I never take the receipt in my personal car and would probably forget to get one in the rental car

  • EdB

    Wouldn’t be surprised. I know I got my membership for “free” with one company I worked for a long time ago. Membership is still valid over 10 years after I left.

  • EdB

    I remember a case like that. Not sure if it was the same one you are talking about. They tried issuing “speeding” tickets. One renter took them to court and the judge dropped the hammer on that practice.

  • Carrie

    Such b.s. It shows that Hertz (as well as other car rental companies) have a good thing going collecting those charges over imaginary damage to their cars. I can’t believe that Hertz guy could say that to you with a straight face.

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  • Ed

    I am a regular renter from Hertz (President’s Circle). This week after the usual excessive wait for the Hertz airport shuttle, I got into a rental car at O’Hare airport. I immediately noticed the new NeverLost and I was completely shocked to see a camera looking at me. The system can’t be turned off from what could tell. I know rental car companies have been tracking the speed and movements of their vehicles for years but putting a camera inside the cabin of the vehicle is taking their need for information a little TOO FAR. I find this to be completely UNACCEPTABLE. In fact, if I get another car from Hertz with a camera in it, I will move our business from Hertz completely. I influence car rentals of many others and I don’t think anyone would want to be on camera while they are driving around or sitting at a red light. Given what Hertz has invested in this system, I wonder how much consumer pressure will make them to pull the plug on this. Business is built one customer at a time and they will no longer have me as a customer.