Enterprise CEO says rental car prices have moderated as supplies have improved but remain high

DETROIT — When Enterprise started to see automobile supply problems after the pandemic hit in 2020, the car and truck rental, fleet management and mobility company decided to cater to its long-term customers.

Chrissy Taylor, CEO of the newly renamed Enterprise Mobility, emphasized rentals to businesses and insurance companies with clients whose cars were damaged in crashes.

Now that travel has made a comeback, Taylor sees rental cars growing again, but says most of the St. Louis-based company’s business is still with its core customers.

Enterprise is now up to more than 2.3 million vehicles in its fleet, more than it had right before the pandemic.

Taylor talked with The Associated Press about where her business is headed, the resurgence in travel, and rental prices. The answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: With a shortage of cars and trucks during the pandemic, but leisure travel making a big resurgence, what’s going on with your business now?

A: A third of our business happens in the airport and two-thirds happens in our suburban market. And our suburban market has been growing exponentially with our contracted business, which includes the corporate customers and the road warrior. They are back and they do travel regionally. So we do have a lot of that business, not just at the airport but in the home city, and then insurance replacement. People still have been driving the last several years, even with the pandemic. So accidents happen. And so we have long-term relationships with insurance partners. That business has also been back on track. Travel demand was through the roof, through the summer. We have also experienced that both domestically and globally and in Europe in particular. And so the airport business is growing. We have a very diverse business line. All of it is growing right now.

Q: How did you end up with most of your business not being rental for travel?

A: We’re coming back online with our leisure customer. About 25% of our business is leisure and the rest is contracted. During the pandemic, when supply chain and vehicle availability were difficult, we made the decision to prioritize those long-term contracts with corporate customers and insurance customers because they’ve been with us for decades. And now with vehicle availability, we’ve been able to bring that leisure customer back online.

Q: Rental vehicles got very expensive when the pandemic hit. Have prices stayed high and what do you see in the future?

A: As demand loosens, we have seen prices moderate year over year, but we’re happy where pricing is. People continue to travel. Pricing is also a factor because we’re in the suburban market. It is based on availability of vehicle, what location you’re going to, what vehicle type you are trying to rent. So there are different factors that go into pricing. The experience needs to be positive, but we feel good about where pricing is.

Q: Are you still seeing a shortage of vehicles because demand is high?

A: We definitely are not buying as many vehicles as we were pre-pandemic. Vehicle supply is down, but we are in a much better place. And so we partner with all of our OEM partners, not just the big three in Detroit, but we’ve got great relationships. We are talking to them on a daily basis and working on what works for them, what works for us. And so we feel really good about vehicle supply coming into the back half of the year.

Q: What about the autoworkers’ strike against the Detroit Three?

A: When we look back at everything that we’ve been through, whether it’s a financial crisis, whether it’s a pandemic, whether it’s the supply challenges, we are in a great position with our local operators and great leadership and great partnerships with the OEMs that we can weather anything that’s coming our way. We feel good about the car flow that’s coming in really through December and into the first part of the year. And if some of that is delayed, that is normal course of business because things don’t always come in when you think they’re going to come in.

Q: Used vehicle prices shot up in 2021 and then dropped in 2022. But they’ve stayed high in part because of lack of supply coming from rental car companies returning vehicles to the market. Do you see that as normalizing?

A: We anticipate that it will most likely stay elevated. We do not have a crystal ball. We are monitoring that on an individual market basis, how we sell those vehicles after we’re finished with them with rental, how we sell them back to our dealerships, how many and at what price, who needs them. It’s very important to keep the residual value high for the manufacturers, making sure that the customer is getting a well-maintained and great vehicle. We also have a very large retail car operation, so dealerships of our own. Pricing is in a good place, but it is elevated.

Q: How long are you keeping vehicles now?

A: Even though our miles are up and we are holding vehicles longer, our customer service has never been higher. So our peak was about 2022. That has come down this year. It is still elevated over pre-pandemic and you really have to dig in to make and model of our fleet because some of the vehicles just are not readily available from the manufacturer and they’re in high demand in the summer. Everybody wants a minivan, they want a large SUV. We tend to keep those a little longer because the demand has been so high. We have a team dedicated on the maintenance, the miles and how long we keep those vehicles to make sure the customer is getting a great product.