Around this time last year, rental car companies found themselves selling off a fair amount of their inventory as the COVID-19 pandemic devastated the travel industry. With travel starting to bounce back, rental car companies now find themselves with a new problem - a shortage of vehicles to rent. Usually, they would turn to automakers and buy up a batch of new cars to shore up inventory. But the on-going semiconductor shortage has automakers cutting back on production, and causing rental companies to look at used cars.
“You would never go into auction to buy routine sedans and SUVs. These are special circumstances. There is a shortage of cars,” said Maryann Keller, an independent consultant.
Bloomberg reports that rental car companies do buy a small amount of used cars in the event of an sudden rise in demand, but not to fully outfit their fleet.
New car production has been hampered since last year as plants were shut down to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Production was starting to climb back up later in the year only to be hampered again by another crisis, the lack of semiconductors and chips needed for various systems. In their first-quarter earnings call, Ford reported production was down 17 percent and could fall as much as 50 percent in the second quarter. Other automakers are making similar statements.
“Our fleet acquisition team is working hard to secure additional vehicles -- both new and low-mileage used vehicles -- through all channels to meet the ongoing increase in demand.Overall, though, both new and used car inventory remain low. Our teams will continue to do everything we can to help customers with their transportation needs,” Enterprise spokeswoman Lisa Martini said via email.
There is a silver lining for rental car companies as they'll be able to charge higher rates as many people begin to take vacations after spending a lot of time at home. For example, the average rate at Avis increased 3 percent in the fourth quarter, to $59.43 a day according to Hamzah Mazari, an analyst with Jefferies & Co. He expects that number to rise to $60.00 when Avis reports their first quarter results.
Source: Bloomberg (Subscription Required)