ORLANDO – Ra Brave arrived last week with his wife and son at Orlando International Airport for a five-day stay. But after a year where most Americans shy away from long-distance travel, the Baltimore real estate agent has discovered a new challenge: getting around town.
“There are no cars available at all,” Brave said after being refused at the car rental desk after the car rental desk at the airport. Agents at the Enterprise and National counters confirmed that every available vehicle they had that day was already booked.
Beaten down by the COVID-19 pandemic, car rental companies face a nationwide car shortage, leading to a drop in traveler availability and daily rental rates rising to nearly $ 500 per day in Tampa.
“I think madhouse is probably a good way to describe it,” said Jonathan Weinberg, CEO of AutoSlash.com, a website that bundles car rental discounts. “We benefit in some ways from insanity. The problem is, in many cases, we just can’t find cars for people.
As the pandemic began in March last year, car rentals fell 90%, according to Weinberg. Over the year, rentals gradually returned, but not before rental companies made the decision to sell thousands of vehicles in order to stay afloat.
“They have a lot fewer cars than in 2019,” Weinberg said. “Even though the industry is down 80%, it has 30 to 40% fewer cars. Prices are skyrocketing. “
Many car rental companies moved inventory to Florida and other tourist locations earlier this year in an attempt to serve returning travelers, but the move failed in some places. During the February holiday weekends, 18 of Florida’s 20 airports were entirely out of cars, according to Weinberg.
Shortages can even vary by just a few kilometers. Weinberg said Orlando has performed better than some of the other states, although he points out rental prices range between $ 50 and $ 100 per day, more than double the average rates he saw in 2019. .
But Weinberg pointed out the Tampa-St. The Petersburg area is an “area of concern,” claiming weekend rentals from the Tampa airport cost up to $ 489 per day.
Weinberg is not optimistic that the situation will improve in the short term.
“As March and April approach, people are starting to head north,” he said, meaning cars will have to head north as well. “Eventually the demand will turn and it will happen very quickly.”
Car rental companies are trying to rebuild their fleets, but buying new cars presents its own challenges. Several auto factories closed at the start of the pandemic, leaving auto dealerships and rental companies to compete for new cars off the line.
Then there is the global shortage of microchips. Production was hampered by the pandemic and was criticized again this year when the ice storm in Texas halted manufacturing and a fire in Japan delayed production at another factory.
These chips are essential components of new cars, which further restricts new inventory. The lack of supply has reached such a crisis that the White House called a summit to address the issue on Monday.
“I don’t think we’re going to see any relief come to this end for a long time,” Weinberg said.
Rental companies compensate by hanging on to vehicles with higher mileage, Weinberg said. “Previously, seeing a rental car with 40,000 miles was unheard of,” he said. “Now you will see these cars with 70,000 and 80,000 miles.”
The lack of rental cars has become a boon for companies like Turo, an Airbnb-like service for cars that allows private owners to rent their own vehicles.
“Our hosts tell us that their business is booming with soaring travel and sky-high rental car prices,” wrote Turo CEO Andre Haddad.
Brave finally found a car at a location far from the airport, which he said he got at a reasonable price.
“It would be more convenient if we could do everything here,” he said.
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