Rich Thomaselli | July 28, 2015 3:15 PM ET
Lyft? Uber? Pffft. Car Rental Companies Have 'Shared' For Years
Enterprise Holdings’ Chief Strategy Officer Greg Stubblefield always has innovative ideas and thoughts, so when he spoke at the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) on Monday he – again – made all the sense in the world.
The panel he spoke at was a discussion on differentiating brands in the sharing economy. You know, the world of Airbnb, Uber, Lyft and other so-called sharing companies.
The message was this: Yep, we share too. About a million times a week, in fact. It’s all in the way you define it.
Think about that for a moment and you have to agree – car rental agencies are the ultimate sharing company, and have been for decades.
Enterprise Holdings, which owns the Enterprise Rent-A-Car, National Car Rental and Alamo Rent A Car brands, is actually a member of the CarSharing Association. At the panel at GBTA, Stubblefield was joined by Kaye Ceille, president of Zipcar; Chip Conley, head of global hospitality and strategy of Airbnb; and Rufino Pérez Fernández, chief commercial officer of NH Hotel Group.
With the panel focusing on consumer “access” vs. “sharing,” Stubblefield said, “They want it where they want it, how they want it, when they want it. Consider that we essentially ‘share’ more than a million vehicles a week in the United States. So when you talk about scale and the ability to meet public transportation needs for the long term, fleet size obviously is a significant factor from an operational and financial perspective.”
We live in a sharing economy now, or so everybody says, but it makes you wonder – haven’t we always? Haven’t we rented cars on vacation, rented houses on the beach? What really has changed except the terminology and the way we refer to things?
Enterprise, for instance, has its ‘Virtual Car’ program that is especially popular in its neighborhood locations, a program that includes car rental, car leasing, vanpooling, car sharing and online ride-matching, in towns and cities of all sizes.
Stubblefield says it’s all a matter of semantics. Heck, even the Associated Press clarified that journalists should begin describing companies like Uber and Lyft as “ride hailing” instead of “ride-sharing.” Why the importance? Stubblefield says terminology can often influence how important public-policy decisions are made, including special tax exemptions and subsidized infrastructure such as free parking in public spaces.
Stubblefield believes that defining transportation services precisely and consistently is critical not only for the media, but also for elected officials, travel industry leaders and business operators to help ensure that the “playing field” is level for everyone involved, customers included. To that end, Enterprise recently participated in an industry conference session titled, “The Convergence of Car Sharing and Car Rental,” which highlighted the important role that car rental plays in the evolution of urban mobility.
And while car rental companies and outfits like Uber and Lyft share similarities, there are essential differences between renting a car, sharing a ride or utilizing for-hire vehicles such as a taxi, just as there are differences between renting a hotel room that somebody else cleans and using an Airbnb and renting someone’s home.
Funny how definition of terms can have so many far-reaching effects.
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