The car rental service that began in the early part of the 20th century with the loaning of Model Ts, bears absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to the multi-national automobile/truck rental industry of today. What probably started as a friendly gesture soon became a means of generating income for individuals, and is now a profit-creating business employed by rental car companies, automobile manufacturers, airlines and hotels. Car renting has had a major impact on American society, affecting people with regard to their vacation plans, commute to work, personal/family moving and relocation, and the transporting of goods and equipment.
The business of renting cars is one that was born of necessity. Ever since cars have been sold, there have always been those who, for whatever reason, could not afford them or saw no need to purchase one. Many of these same individuals would, on occasion, be faced with situations where they could definitely use a vehicle. When the rental car business experienced its first period of rapid growth, the main customers were traveling salesmen. The businessperson still accounts for a sizeable segment of the market, but these numbers are being challenged (and in many cases exceeded) by vacationers. Further increases in vehicle renting are being noted among college students and weekend revelers.
The increases in vehicle renting have also brought forth an accompanying rise in the amount of car insurance being issued. Rental car insurance is an option that is exercised by a majority of customers, either directly through the car rental company, or through clauses/stipulations within their personal auto insurance policy. Industry watchers are predicting further increases in the amount of rental car insurance policies issued, as more states and municipalities are requiring mandatory rental car coverage.
No discussion of the vehicle renting industry is complete without examining the impact of a somewhat recent concept; car sharing. What began as an environmental measure, designed to decrease the number of vehicles on the road, has now developed into a serious challenger for a portion of the car rental market. Car sharing is already perceived as being more "green" than car renting, thus making it an attractive choice to/for many consumers. Zipcar, the world's largest car sharing company, has a formidable presence in 49 U.S. cities, Toronto, Vancouver and London. The continued popularity of car sharing bodes well for continued growth. Its impact on established rental car companies is being monitored.