Silvercar CEO Luke Schneider: Startup offers ‘better alternative’ to traditional airport car rental

Kathryn Hawkins

The airport rental car industry hasn’t changed much in decades. While you now can book a rental car online, you don’t know always what make and model you’ll be driving, and you still may need to stand in line to get the keys.

Silvercar is an Austin, Texas-based startup working to streamline the rental car experience by providing just one rental option — an Audi A4 — and letting customers complete transactions on their smartphones. The company launched its first location at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in January 2013, with plans to expand across the U.S.

CarInsuranceQuotes.com talked with Silvercar CEO Luke Schneider about his company’s new approach to renting a car.

What problems did you see with the existing model for airport rental cars?

At conferences, I always tell people to raise their hands if they’ve had a disappointing experience with an airport rental — without fail, everyone’s hands go up. You can’t reserve the car you want, only a class of car, so you never know what you’re going to get. You might end up driving a minivan to a business meeting, which could reflect poorly on your organization. Unless you have preferred status, you need to wait in line and sign multiple contracts, then deal with the whole “upsell” process when you’re persuaded to upgrade to better insurance, GPS and other perks. The genesis of the company was the possibility of providing a better alternative.

How would you define the Silvercar concept?

We’ve taken the airport car rental market and innovated it for the first time in 30 or 40 years by using only one car type and making the entire experience smartphone-based. We have a client suite that’s a cross between a W Hotel and an Apple store. There’s no need to wait in any lines to book your rental. You can grab a bottle of water and run right through to your waiting car, or ask a concierge for directions or other help. We take the pain and friction points out of the car rental experience.

Why offer just one type of car, the Audi A4?

Using a single-make-and-model combination is similar to airlines that fly only one kind of plane, like Southwest. It helps us on the maintenance side and on shipping capacity, so it keeps our costs down. On the customer side, there aren’t any surprises or disappointment over getting a different type of car than you’d expected. The Audi A4 is a premium four-door sedan that fit the right sweet spot: Men and women both like it, the performance is everything you expect, and it’s a smart car that allows us to clip in minimally invasive technology, such as the ability to use your smartphone to unlock your car.

Who do you see as your target customer?

By and large, our customers are business travelers who aren’t bound by a big corporate system. While Fortune 500 employees often have to use approved vendors, people who work for law firms or consulting firms have more flexibility to choose their rentals, and our service is tailored for them. However, we’re also seeing business from the general consumer market. For people on vacation, the cars are priced similarly to a full-sized car from another company, so it’s a great alternative for them as well.

What plans do you have for expansion?

We’re not planning to expand our vehicle line; the Audi A4 is the perfect fit for our audience. In terms of locations, we’re working out how to manage demand at our Dallas location before we grow, but the company’s success will depend on expansion, and we’re already talking to other airports. In the next year or two, you should be able to find Silvercar in anywhere from three to seven additional airports.

 

 

 

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