Rental Car Industry COVID-19 Fallout: The Car Wash
Last week I headed to Tucson for a few days away in the desert. As you literally cannot get around Arizona without a vehicle, I had to rent a car for my few days (Phoenix and Tucson are both known for their sprawl, not their mass transit). While my rental went smoothly, the experience brought to light an interesting rental car industry COVID-19 issue: companies are struggling to clean cars. Yes. Apparently this is a pain point at the moment.
Budgeting for a Deal
Given that travel is way down from its normal levels, I had every expectation I could snag a great deal on a car. Sure enough, a three-day rental with Budget at Tucson Airport ran me $77 after taxes. Even for a compact, this is one of the better rates I’ve scored.
I arrived to a completely deserted rental car center. This wasn’t entirely unexpected, given the COVID-19 travel situation. Travel is at just 10% of what it was this same time last year. But it was still a little strange.
Aside from the mandated distancing and completely empty queues, this rental was just like any other. I presented my license and credit card (with car rental protections, of course) and was asked the typical confirmation question about my phone number and address.
But then the agent asked an unexpected question: “We don’t have a compact. Would you like a Tacoma?”
The Rental Car Industry COVID-19 Predicament
Now, my answer was of course yes. A nice pickup for the three days? I’ll take it. But I was curious why this was even offered. Shouldn’t there be plenty of cars in stock, given the lack of demand? I can’t imagine that Budget is suffering from too many rentals.
It turns out that laying off nearly all your staff has some unusual side effects. The agent at the desk informed me that she, her manager, and one other staff had been retained out of the entire cohort that keeps the Tucson Budget rental car operation going. I guess this was a necessary move to save the payroll cost.
But now people are hesitant to come back to work. According to the agent, Budget is not only fighting worries about coronavirus, but they are fighting economics. Many staff are now making more sitting at home on unemployment, which has been expanded greatly during COVID-19. Why come back to work detailing cars all day for less money, especially if this might lead to increased potential exposure to coronavirus?
Without car detailers as well as additional cleanliness requirements during the pandemic, the Tucson Budget isn’t able to clean their cars fast enough to keep up with even the limited demand. At least this is what I was told. The manager has often been the one out there doing the washing and cleaning. With only a couple staff to handle all aspects of the operation, they are obviously stretched thin.
Thus, the Tacoma was one of the few options they had left. Lucky me, the beneficiary of rental car industry COVID fallout.
While travel is starting to pick up a bit, it is nowhere near what it was. However, as states start to open up and more people take to the skies, travel companies are going to call on their staff to return. It will be interesting to see if they are able to entice them back to work if it means they’ll be making less than they were on pandemic unemployment.