At Rental Car Upstart, You’ll Take a Silver Audi, or Walk
We’ve all been there, standing in line for a rental car after a long flight, dreading the moment when you’re forced to play what Luke Schneider calls the “PT Cruiser Lottery” and choose from the least crappy of the crappy cars on the lot.
Schneider, the CEO of upstart rental agency Silvercar, wants to change that game by making every car a winner. Specifically, an Audi A4. The start-up, flush with cash from angel investors CrunchFund, SV Angel and others, is completely re-imagining the rental car experience by making a sweet ride a click or two away.
“We want to do for rental cars what iTunes did for music,” Schneider tells Wired. That’s a comically lofty goal, but Schneider — who came to Silvercar from Zipcar, where he was the CTO — makes a solid case for it.
The fact of the matter is, renting a car generally sucks. Even if you’re drowning in rental car rewards points, the odds are you’re gonna get stuck in a tired sedan with a blown speaker, a sticky steering wheel and…. What the hell is that stain on the seat?
It’s completely different with Silvercar, from the moment you book online until you return your ride.
To begin with, you can choose any car, as long as it’s an Audi A4 coated – predictably – in silver. That takes the element of chance out of the equation. But it’s not just about guaranteeing an entry-level luxury sedan. It’s about choosing cars packed with the technology to make Silvercar’s model work.
“The marriage between mobile and travel are really well suited to each other,” Schneider says. “We’re leveraging technology to get you on the road as quickly as possible.”
To that end, Silvercar is employing a combination of web- and app-based booking and payment solutions that utilize both the Silvercar site and apps for both Android and iOS.
So how will it work?
You book your car in advance (or even the day of) through either the app or through the site. Through either portal, you’ve set up a profile of sorts, that not only has your payment and contact information stored, but also your favorite satellite radio stations and the addresses for your hotel and meeting locations.
When you land, you head out to the lot, pick an Audi from the lineup and dial in its unique identifier into the Silvercar app. The car unlocks, the embedded data connection recognizes it’s you, and all your pre-saved data is downloaded to the Audi’s infotainment system in moments. There are no counters and no annoying attendants, but a concierge service is just a phone call away, if necessary.
While the instant in-car customization and high-end ride has the potential to be a boon for well-to-do road warriors, it’s the return process that’s even more compelling.
With your return flight stored in the cloud, the app can send push notifications to let you know when to arrive at the airport, providing enough time to park and get through the TSA screening. And rather than worrying about topping up the tank and going through the post-rental inspection, the in-car data connection calculates how much fuel it needs, toll costs, and other charges and pushes the receipt to your mobile, “before you even get to the gate,” says Schneider.
Schneider and Co. have raised $ 11.5 million according to their SEC filing, and plan to launch in one city this quarter, with new airports added each quarter into the future. That might be slow to start, but considering Silvercar is trying to break into a $ 31 billion industry dominated by companies like Hertz and Avis, it’s a solid start.
Silvercar isn’t talking about prices at the moment, but Schneider assures us that it won’t cost more than an average full-size sedan from a traditional rental car agency. And while Silvercar can’t confirm or deny where it will launch its first outlet, based on the airport development plans released by the Dallas/Fort Worth airport earlier this year, a fleet of connected A4s should be landing in Texas before the end of the year.