Hertz courts upscale vehicle renters

Hertz Corp. is courting customers who have a taste for fancy vehicles by offering a variety of luxury cars and sport-utilities.

On June 1, the rental car company debuted its Prestige Collection, which consists of Jaguar, Land Rover, Lincoln and Volvo vehicles, in 20 markets in the United States and Canada.

Hertz, of Park Ridge, N.J., is a Ford subsidiary. It obtains its Prestige fleet from Ford Motors' Premier Automotive Group.

Brian Kennedy, Hertz executive vice president for marketing and sales, said the program is doing well. But he declined to disclose how many of the luxury vehicles are rented on a daily or weekly basis.

He said the average length of a vehicle rental is three days, but based on reservation data gathered since the program began, the average vehicle rental for Prestige customers is five days.

'That is key to us to make money, and it gives the customer a quality experience,' Kennedy said.

He said 'close to 10,000' Premier Automotive Group vehicles are in Hertz's Prestige Collection.

Hertz always had some luxury brand vehicles in its fleet, he said, but this is the first concerted effort to place specific Ford luxury brand vehicles in specific markets.

Kennedy said the vehicles are targeted to travelers who rent a vehicle for a combination of business and pleasure and those willing to pay a 25 percent to 100 percent premium over regular rental car rates.

Prestige Collection customers receive special services. Among other things, the vehicles are parked in convenient, weather-protected areas, and customers receive expedited vehicle return service. The vehicles are equipped with complimentary NeverLost satellite navigation systems, which can trace lost or stolen vehicles.

Kennedy predicts that in an effort to protect residual values, the luxury fleet will not remain with Hertz as long as the average 12 months and/or 20,000 miles of most other rental cars.

The vehicles are available in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Washington and cities in California and Florida. Canadian markets are Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.

Kennedy said Hertz plans to expand the luxury car line into 19 other North American markets by the end of 2003 and to some European and Australian cities next year.

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