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Europcar outlines its plans to revamp rental sector

Date: 12 April 2017   |   Author: James Richardson

One of the biggest rental companies in the world, with a fleet totalling more than 190,000 cars across 140 countries. In Britain alone, it operates a vast fleet of 60,000 cars and vans.

Now, however, alongside opening a new-look flagship site in Brussels - the style of which will be coming to the UK in time too - the company is aiming to re-invent the traditional car-rental sector to reflect the changing market. According to Europcar, there is less and less motivation, especially among young people and those living in big cities, to actually own a car, as they cost too much, take up too much time with things like maintenance and administration, and are too difficult to park.

Much better (for some) to use public transport for most of the week and hire a car for the few hours a week you need it to go to the supermarket and do other chores. This is partly why the company is investing so heavily in more 'flexible mobility solutions' as well as its traditional car rental business. Recently, it's acquired start-ups like Ubeeqo and E-Car, both of which offer a different, more flexible, take on the traditional car hire experience.

Ubeeqo is an app-based, short-term rental service that allows users to hire a car for as little as 15 minutes, as well as offering traditional longer-term hire and a minicab service all in one app. The app is the portal to all its services, and customers also use it to unlock the cars using a sensor in the windscreen, while instructions on what to do next are issued from a computer in the glovebox, which releases the key when the correct code (that has been sent to the customer's phone via the app) is tapped in.

In a similar vein, Europcar also recently purchased E-Car, a small London-based car club that only runs electric cars. Like Ubeeqo, E-Car allows short-term rental that can be booked quickly via the internet or a smartphone. Even though it doesn't offer the same range of services as Ubeeqo, it still offers a much more flexible way of getting around town than a traditional hire car, with the additional bonus of it being environmentally friendly and congestion charge-exempt.

Photo 2 Station Bruxelles

According to Caroline Parot, Europcar Group's CEO, this slight shift in
strategy is all about keeping up with the shift in consumer priorities. She told BusinessCar that one of the biggest challenges the group faces is "following the customers' expectations".

It would appear, however, that Europcar's more traditional customer base is not embracing EVs and plug-in hybrids with a great deal of enthusiasm because, according to Parot, these vehicles are too much hassle and aren't familiar enough, especially to those who are on holiday.

"It's because they rent a car either because they go for leisure at the weekend or on vacation, and also because they go on business trips and are under time constraints," she explained. Parot, however, conceded that a greater take up of plug-ins and EVs will happen - especially in big cities - and that Europcar was trying hard to "push" its customers into hybrid cars.

"For us, the reality is that it's coming, but we need not only the customers - we need to lobby and discuss with the cities on what we can provide, what we can do and how we can deliver the services, but not alone," she said. This range of new services will be rolled out along with the new style of flagship centre (pictured), the first of which has recently opened in Brussels. Eventually, these will be rolled out across Europe - including in the UK.

Photo 3 Station Bruxelles

According to Fabrizio Ruggiero, Europcar Group's deputy CEO, sales, marketing, customers & InterRent, it will help to "provide a world-class experience, both in the customer journey and the range of mobility solutions offered. Our goal is to deploy on a mid-term basis the new station concept in strategic places such as airports, railway stations or big European cities in order to better respond to our customers' needs."

Within these new centres will be digital kiosks that will allow customers to search for the service they require and each new site will be designed according to what the individual countries require. Parot told BusinessCar: "We will keep the same concept, for sure, but amend some pieces of design to be sure we are in line with the customer feedback we have received based on each new area."