What will your next rental car know about you? Everything

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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?

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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 . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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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.