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How smart mobile assistants are changing the car rental industry

During the last decade the travel and car rental industries have gone through many changes. These changes have been driven mainly by a growing environmental awareness and by technology.

Environmental awareness and technology are expected to be the main drivers of change in these industries for the next decade too. In this article we are going to describe how.

How technology and environmental awareness are changing the car rental industry.

On the on hand, environmental awareness is pushing the global car rental industry to replace more polluting vehicles with greener ones. Diesel cars are slowly but steadily being replaced by cars running on petrol and, especially in the last couple of years, on electricity.

Moreover, in the next 10 years, electric cars are expected to replace even cars running on petrol.

Internal combustion engines will be banned very soon and electric mobility is going to be the new standard in the car rental industry.

On the other hand, car rental fleets are getting increasingly technology-rich and digital-centric.

Services like online real-time booking, GPS navigators or in-car Wi-Fi hotspots, once on-demand ancillaries, are becoming today included-by-default services in every car rental operation.

The list of digital services offered to car rental clients is long and constantly growing.

However, the latest trend in digital services offered by car rentals today seem to be smart mobile assistants.

Let’s see what they are and how they impact the car rental experience both on the client and on the service provider sides.

What are smart mobile assistants

Smart mobile assistants (SMA’s from now on) are mobile devices packed with services that are very useful to car rental clients and, more generally, to travelers.

These devices are very similar to normal smartphones but what differentiates them from the former is that their software and hardware are developed to meet the needs of innovative car rental companies, like AVIS Greece and Autovia and their customers.

So let’s see now what these needs are and how smart mobile assistant services satisfy them.

Smart mobile assistant features and benefits for car rental clients

The following are the main features provided to car rental clients by smart mobile assistants

  • Internet connectivity: when traveling we all want seamless internet connectivity so that we can stay in touch with colleagues, family and friends. Sometimes our smartphone is not enough to provide us with this connectivity either for technical reasons or for data plan limitations. This is where smart mobile assistants come to the rescue as they can be used as mobile Wi-Fi hotspots with unlimited internet connectivity
  • International calls: phone calls can be quite expensive when we roam abroad with our domestic mobile telephony plan. However, when, during our trip, we rent a car equipped with a smart mobile assistant, international roaming phone calls can be made without incurring in extra charges as SMA’s offer them for free.
  • Road assistance: imagine that you’re traveling abroad with a rented car and suddenly it breaks down or you get involved in a car accident. If your car is not equipped with an SMA, calling the road assistance, explaining where you are and getting help (often in a language you don’t speak well or don’t speak at all) can be quite a challenging experience. However, if your car is equipped with an SMA all you need to do to get help is just tap on the road assistance icon. Immediately, your SMA will call the road assistance and send them your gps position so that they find you and assist you promptly.
  • GPS navigation: there’s no need to explain why GPS navigation tools included in SMA’s are must-haves for car rental customers. Just imagine how difficult and time consuming can be driving around a city you’re visiting for the first time or finding an open gas station at night and abroad without a GPS navigator.
  • Travel tips: so you’ve finally reached your holiday destination, you pick-up a car at the car rental desk and you’re ready to discover all the best places to see and things to do. But you don’t know what these places and things are! If your rented car is not equipped with an SMA you can either ask locals for advice or use Google to find some clues. These solutions can often be time consuming and misleading making you lose precious time of your vacation. However, if your rented is equipped with an SMA you’ve got your holiday destination in the palm of your hand as your smart mobile assistant certainly contains a comprehensive travel guide with all the information you need to enjoy your vacation.
  • Utility and safety tips: where can I find an open pharmacy at night? What is the local police emergency number? Where is my country’s embassy located and how do I contact it? These are just a few of the questions you might find yourself asking in case of trouble during a holiday abroad. SMA’s can give you the answers to all these questions as they contain all the information anyone might ever need to face an emergency when traveling.

Smart mobile assistant features and benefits for car rental companies

The following are the main features provided to car rental companies by smart mobile assistants

  • Better communication with clients: SMA’s are equipped with a SIM card and have local phone numbers. Therefore they can be used by car rental managers to communicate with their clients at any time and without violating their privacy as they do not need the clients’ personal mobile numbers to get in touch with them.
  • Better client experience: equipping cars for rent with SMAs provides car rental clients with strong communication tools, a lot of information about their travel destination and absolute peace of mind in case of emergency. As a consequence they are provided with a better overall travel and car rental experience. A better experience means happier clients. Happier clients leave more positive reviews and positive reviews bring in new clients!

The future of car rentals

Smart mobile assistants are just a small (but significant) first step towards a constantly evolving car rental industry. In the next decade, electrification, mass car sharing and self-driving vehicles are going to be the main trends for car rentals. Beyond the next decade, who knows, maybe renting a flying car might be the new trend to watch!

In the meantime, while waiting to experience all this amazing change, the best thing you can do is rent the car you like, get in the driver’s seat, fasten your seatbelt and activate your smart mobile assistant. You’re going to love the way you travel with it!

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Rent a car smart mobile assistant - Manet Mobile Solutions

What Technology Disruptions in the Rent-A-Car Industry Mean for Your Hospitality Business?

Something digital this way comes. 

It sees you when you’re sleeping. It knows when you’re awake. 

So be ahead of the curve, for goodness sake!

By 2022, the worldwide car rental industry will be worth over $124.56 billion dollars, growing at a rate of 13.55% from 2017. 

One of the fastest-growing markets for car rentals around the world so far is turning out to be Europe. It’s an industry that is intricately (and increasingly) tied to the growth of the travel and tourism industry. 

So when it comes to the car rental sector, technology is promising to leave no stone unturned as it blows its way through the hospitality industry. 

See, there’s a similar digital revolution going on in travel, tourism, and hospitality. 

Hotels are already being equipped with mobile check-in solutions. Rooms are undergoing a digital makeover with the use of automated control systems for heating, cooling, app-driven room service, and digital assistants.

The rent-a-car market is facing just such a tech turn in the tides in two waves:

  • First off, rental companies themselves are changing the value prop facing a customer by changing the way bookings are done in tandem with travel.
  • Secondly, units of cars are being technologically transformed with the digital features necessary to deliver on these brand promises within the driving and on-road experience. 

Let’s take a look at these specific technological disruptions and what their advance means for the hospitality industry at large. 

The Tech Specs

Perhaps the greatest single change that all other “tech” changes flow from is the transformation of the car rental industry ethics. We’re moving from cars as an owned unit to “cars as a service.”

As a collective culture, it’s easy to see that disruptive apps like Uber, Lyft, and AirBnb have changed the very idea of ownership. Now, it’s all about mobility and flexibility: Cars-as-a-service (CaaS).

This change in consumption is running alongside enhancements in the car rental market itself. Fleets are changing and so are the digital features of this new and diverse collection of automobiles. 

In a survey of the global electrical car rental market, economy cars are dominating the market at 90.17% of the market share, according to 2018 results.

Global Electric Car Rental Market trends - Manet Mobile Solutions
Source: Business Wire

Furthermore, luxury vendors are happily maintaining a fleet of electric vehicles such as the Tesla Model S and X. 

There’s a clear demand. 

Car rental as a service itself is becoming a more viable option even when travelers remain at home because there’s an emphasis on short-term rentals, pay-as-you-go models and subscription-based payments. 

Online rent-a-car search and booking engines 

First and foremost, search behavior is changing the way that rent-a-car brands are being found — but, also, it’s allowing the data to drive their own “findability.”

Rent-a-car search is now usually seamlessly integrated into travel and tourism bookings, or hospitality reservations. 

In other words, when users search for car rentals online, booking engines will offer highly targeted and specific offers on hotel suites, tours in the location of booking, and other travel-related discounts and promotions to not only incentivize a further purchase but to create an entire experience of travel. 

Known as “in-destination experiences,” this is what’s really at the heart of this rent-a-car transformation. 

“Companies across all industries are trying to create a better experience for their customers,” says Jayesh Patel, a senior vice president marketing at a major car rental brand company. “We are no different.”

Digital car sharing platforms 

Another major driver of tech-inspired transformation within the rent-a-car industry is the unmistakable effect of the “ride-hailing economy.”

It’s not only that the nature of the buyer is changing — from baby boomers to millennials voting with their pocketbooks to keep large, expensive, and often financially imprudent purchases off the bucket list. 

It’s also that peer-to-peer car sharing and ride-hailing has opened up the gateway to cars on demand. 

Apps offering reservations from a ready-to-go fleet offer individuals who travel around the world as a lifestyle the opportunity to experience that mobility and flexibility on a dime, and on their own time. 

“Consumers today have access to more information whenever and wherever they need it; they have a more urban lifestyle and have new attitudes and preferences about accessing automobiles and mobility in general…There is a solid consensus that cars provide an unmatched level of convenience and freedom, allowing people to be in total control of the time, destination and environment – and that is where opportunity exists. We’re not just renting cars … we are providing mobility, and mobility keeps the world moving.” — Pat FarrellChief Marketing & Communications Officer for Enterprise Holdings

In-car mobile hot spots and digital assistants

Alexa, entertain my kids while I keep my eyes on the road.

Okay, that’s not a real command but in-car mobile hot spots enhance the experience of a road trip by offering functionality that is very familiar to the user.

In a way, it fulfills the customers’ expectations and also surpasses it because Wi-Fi is usually a “land”-based feature. How do cars keep connected if they’re not on the “wired” part of Wi-Fi? 

They do so in the same way as cellphones and mobile devices, which run on a network. 

While passengers — notably children — can take advantage of mobile hot spots in a rental car to keep them occupied, drivers of this new digital ridesharing market can safely and accurately deliver customers to their preferred locations, using routes that are updated in real time. 

And it’s not just that. When individuals travel, 15% of them do so for business purposes. This means that in-car mobile hot spots offer businesspeople the chance to conduct their tasks on the go.

Anti-theft satellite systems

Car rentals also want to ensure that part of their customers’ experience is one of trust and safety. 

That’s why one of the major “services” offered in this new CaaS economy is an anti-theft satellite system. 

Here, the key is integration. Devices like SPOT Trace or Cellutrack take advantage of a device that’s in the hands of billions of users already — mobile phones — to provide added levels of safety, tracking, and security. 

It puts the control back into the hands of the driver or user. 

Designing a Driver’s “User Experience”

See, the user experience isn’t necessarily about inventing new technology. 

You’ll notice that many of these so-called “transformations” are simply changes in how things are already being done, relying on a level of assumed consumer adoption (namely, of mobile devices) to run new and innovative software on. 

So rent-a-car companies don’t have to reinvent the wheel. 

Which makes sense, given that related industries like travel and hospitality don’t have to either. In order to upgrade their users’ experience and set a new standard, they simply need to find and implement digital “mirrors” for common expectations like check-ins and room service. 

The actual software itself is running via mobile or digital assistant consoles like the Echo Dot.

But what is it that users want? Why are they even looking to book a hotel room or, in this case, rent a car?

To enhance the user experience, car rental companies must first understand their customers’ reasons for renting. According to a survey of 850,000 travelers in 2017, these were the results of why individual travelers relied on rental cars.

Why people rent cars -  Manet Mobile Solutions
Source: Business Wire

This is a win-win situation. If car rentals are being used as a service or insurance replacement, new features that enhance user experience make it more likely that they will look for similar features when they rent cars for leisure travel. 

So far, we’ve seen that updates to behavior equal updates to technology. And updates to technologies call for an update in fleets themselves. 

Says Susan Lombardo, senior vice-president of vehicle acquisition at Enterprise Holdings:

“Many drivers experience new automotive technologies for the first time in rental vehicles.” 

She cites the fact that it’s, after all, the US car rental industry that first helped popularize anti-lock braking, stop-start technology, hybrid electric vehicles and more to consumers. 

Car manufacturers are, themselves, offering a greater number of digitally-driven enhancements, including:

  • Offering easier navigation: Navigation systems now link up to your mobile devices app history, drives, and preferences
  • Enriched driver experience: Vehicle manufacturers like Mitsubishi are giving drivers the ability to connect to a centralized call center for emergency services through connected AI and voice recognition capabilities
  • Easier geo-located assistance request 
  • Continuous connectivity


Conclusion 

So what’s next for the future of rent-a-car “services” and experience-driven digital transformations of cars?

We’re seeing a greater and more rapid adoption rate of self-driving cars, especially in emerging countries, for one. 

These numbers reported from 2015 alone forecast that, at a similar rate of growth, and thanks to a growing number of individuals with disposable incomes in these countries, the self-drive car rental market will reach 1.65 billion USD by 2020. 

The major shift from car ownership to CaaS will develop alongside changes in conferencing technology (think about location-independent entrepreneurs running conferences during their commutes). 

Insurance companies, too, are sure to be swept up in this change, offering innovative, short-term policies on rentals, making car sharing even more attractive or offering discounts on connected vehicles. 

So just count on your fingers the number of services and technologies relating to commuting, road-tripping, and car rental, in general. Then watch as these utterly transform in tandem in the next five to 10 years. 


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