AutoNation Inc.'s online used-car operation is helping Avis Budget Group sell retired rental vehicles directly to consumers, a move that could reduce the number of vehicles available to dealers through auctions.
Avis Budget invites consumers to go to the rental company's Web site and schedule a two-hour to three-day test drive of a vehicle that is in rental use.
AutoNation Direct schedules the test drives and handles financing, trade-in options, available warranties and other services. Visitors to avis.com or budget.com -- but not autonationdirect.com -- are directed to another site to see the vehicle listings.
Ron Frey, president of AutoNation Direct, says the partnership gives his company a chance to learn new ways to handle vehicle transactions.
"We're learning to transact in a virtual environment where we're never physically touching the vehicle," he says.
"'Car sales' is one of the most often-searched terms at Avis.com and Budget.com," Tom Gartland, president of North American Avis Budget Group, said in a statement. "This is one of the many indications that there is demand in the marketplace for our used vehicles."
The test drives are available in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida and Nevada.
Frey says they will go nationwide within a year.
Participating consumers in those states go to the Web site, pick out a vehicle and fill out an online form to schedule a test drive.
Consumers can pick up the vehicle at a Budget or Avis office and drive it for two hours for free or pay to rent the vehicle for up to three days.
If they choose to purchase the vehicle, the rental fee is refunded.
Avis Budget is not the only rental-car company that is bypassing wholesale auto auctions to sell retired fleet vehicles.
In 2009, Hertz Corp. created rent2buy.hertzcarsales.com to sell cars and trucks directly to consumers online.