The current state of car rental: How Europcar navigated the pandemic

The travel industry was hit hard by the pandemic. Lockdowns, border closures and other measures brought travel to a standstill. For businesses with a primary focus on transport, this was particularly troubling.

For car rental however, while things were difficult, we actually saw an increase in usage during the pandemic.

We wanted to explore into this further and see how exactly car rental companies responded to the crisis, and so we spoke with prominent car rental brands for some insights.

Here’s what Europcar Mobility Group had to say.

How did Europcar cope with Covid?

Like all players of the travel and leisure industry, our Group was strongly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Due to travel bans and lockdowns, combined with a “self-restriction” trend among customers concerned with their safety, impacts on our business have been severe.

Our Group reacted very quickly and fought on several fronts. First of all, the security front, by very quickly putting in place reinforced cleaning and disinfection processes for vehicles and stations and we now have our “Safety Program” in place, benefitting from the expertise of Bureau Veritas.

On the business continuity front, considering that mobility services were essential in this particular context - in particular for the delivery of goods such as food and medicines: so we supported our B2B and B2B customers with maximum flexibility. Last but not least: on the solidarity front - as part of our “Together program” and reflecting our CSR commitments - we provided free vehicles for health workers and professionals who were on the front line in the fight against the pandemic.

However, despite the crisis and the general slowdown of the activity, our different geographies showed good resilience thanks to the local domestic demand and we also recorded good results in the segment of light commercial vehicle rental – a segment which benefited from an increased demand for home delivery – as well as in urban mobility.

The overall resilience of our Group has been made possible because we implemented, at an early stage of the crisis, a short-term tactical plan to contain the immediate emergency – containing costs, adapting our products and services to this unprecedented sanitary context – and almost at the same time, we started to prepare the future, building on what we guessed would be the long-term aftermath of the crisis. We wanted to turn the crisis into an opportunity and we did it! We emerged stronger from this crisis.

Since the pandemic, has Europcar noticed a change in clients’ behavior?

The Covid crisis has not, strictly speaking, led to major changes in customer behavior: it has rather reinforced pre-existing needs and expectations.

We launched our “Connect” strategic roadmap over the course of Summer 2020, reshaping the Group around these reinforced customers’ needs and expectations in terms of mobility: increased digital consumption habits and need for "contactless" services, new standards of security and flexibility, as well as an aspiration for more responsible and environmental-friendly modes of travel, in a broader transition from ownership to usership.

We see ourselves as a “mobility services provider”. So, it’s not about cars or vans: it’s all about offering attractive alternatives to vehicle ownership, in a responsible and sustainable manner.

This is our Group’s purpose and it existed before the COVID crisis. But the strategic roadmap that we are currently implementing is deeply rooted in this purpose. And to make it happen, we have changed our organization, now structured around 3 Service Lines: Leisure, Professional, Proximity.

Each Service Line is dedicated to respond to specific mobility use cases and in charge of designing the appropriate offers and associated customer journey as well as operating features.

This organization also relies on four “enabling pillars”:

  • Fleet: simplification of fleet mix & categories, reinforcement of connected cars, direct access to cars, “greenification” of the fleet, (100% of the fleet connected and above 30% of electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles by end of 2023)
  • Network: reshuffling of the station footprint and role based on use cases operating models (Airports, Hubs in towns, Delivery & Collect…)
  • Technology: one Core operating system with one common customer database, one connected fleet platform, one back office
  • Talents & Culture: simplification of the organization / centralization while delayering.

To some extent, the crisis has helped accelerate our customer focus. Our objective is to become a major player in flexible, sustainable, connected and digital mobility solutions in the years to come: the partner profile that our current and future customers, both B2C and B2B, will expect in the years to come.

How did Europcar adapt to these new trends?

Mobility services are rapidly expanding and constantly evolving, fueled by technological and social trends. Following social trends, listening to customers, focusing on use cases: all of this is absolutely key and we do it on a constant basis, in order to develop new offers, services and solutions.

And since the beginning of 2021, our Group has already achieved some key milestones of its roadmap: launch of new innovative long-term subscription offers for our B2B customers – Flex, SuperFlex, DuoFlex - , acceleration of the deployment of our connected vehicles program, pursuit of the electrification of the fleet in strong connection with our ESG ambition, ramp up of our Key’n Go solution, which allows customers to benefit from a 100% digital, a safe and fast solution to book, pick up and return their vehicle…

All these innovations respond to specific use cases and/or reinforced customer’s expectations.

As an illustration: in March, our Group launched a brand new range of subscription offers for companies, allowing fully flexible vehicle rentals. In the current volatile business environment that companies of all sizes are facing, ability to manage both peaks of activity and decreases of the demand has become critical, both from an operational and economic standpoint. To meet this increasing need for greater flexibility, our three new offers – “Flex”, “Superflex”, “DuoFlex”- are smart alternatives to fixed-term leasing or ownership, offering the convenience of a monthly subscription.

Starting with a 1-month rental period, any company can then modulate its subscription according to its needs, with no commitment, no upfront payment and no exit fees, with highly flexible terms and conditions. A customer can, for example, start a monthly rental and then change his mind: he will be billed only for effective rental days.

These offers are also based on a wide choice of vehicles and a variety of mileage options. Maintenance, insurance and tires are included in the price and the monthly price is fixed, so companies can control their expenses, with no surprises.

Another illustration: we launched 2 years ago our "One Sustainable Fleet" program, to actively increase the share of green vehicles within our fleet over the years and to be able to provide charging solutions, thanks to our partnership with New Motion; one of the leading European smart charging providers.

This ambition is now embedded in a comprehensive carbon reduction plan, allowing the Group to have a systemic approach of carbon reduction, encapsulating and driving all key processes which have an impact. We are making our low-carbon transition and want to embark our customers in this transition.

Our Group has established robust targets for the “greenification” of its fleet, namely: reducing carbon emissions for its car and van fleet to reach an average of 93 g CO2/km for passenger cars and of 144 g CO2/km for vans respectively, by the end of 2024, and targeting to have green vehicles - EV and PHVs, emitting less than 50 g CO2/km - accounting for 20% of its car and van fleet by the end of 2024.

This will of course meet the needs of our B2B customers who have started to decarbonize their business and their mobility.

Where does Europcar stand on Mobility as a Service (MaaS)? Are there any recent or planned implementations of this model?

Our Group defines itself as a "mobility service company". What matters to us is how we enable more than 5 million customers each year to get from A to B. Our core business is service, and we don't see mobility as anything other than a service, especially in an economy that will increasingly become a usage economy. So, we are totally in line with the MaaS concept!

But MaaS is not just a concept: it is of course the integration of different mobility services on a single platform, with a notion of "on demand" accessibility.

Our car rental and car sharing services can integrate existing MaaS platforms: we are open to this, because our vision of mobility is open and collaborative. But we can also become a MaaS ourselves, to some extent. We already have a wide range of mobility services, with brands such as Europcar, Goldcar and also Ubeeqo, the leader in round-trip car-sharing.

In addition, we already have an "on demand" approach, 100% digital, with Ubeeqo, and we are thinking about extending this value proposition, this great accessibility, to our other brands.

Understanding the new mobility market

Despite the pandemic, Europcar was able to push forward with its services. This of course involved some adaption and changes on its end, namely shifting focus onto the transport of goods while increasing emphasis on the safety of the travelers through disinfection and cleaning of the vehicles.

As Europcar was quick to make a move, it was able to pull through and make it out of the other end of the pandemic.

The clientele has not changed substantially it seems, but rather their behaviors have shifted. Safety, flexibility and sustainability are now the name of the game – and that is exactly the direction Europcar are now moving towards.

This can be seen in the services being provided and what they’re being provided for: a different kind of travel is now starting to take place, after all.

This is why the MaaS model is now so integral and why Europcar is ensuring its car rental services can integrate into existing MaaS platforms while still working on its availability and accessibility itself.

All in all, things are looking positive for Europcar and the car rental industry. As travel returns, we should now see this new way of accessing transport, a positive change shaped by our new expectations of what traveling should be about.

Thank you to Europcar for taking part!

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