The title of cyclist Lance Armstrong's autobiography is "It's Not About the Bike." If Bob Salerno, president of Avis Budget Group, ever writes a book, he might well call it "It's Not About the Car."

I had called Salerno to ask how post-Cendant life was going. He said not much had really changed.

"Our goal is still the same," he said.

And that is ... to try harder? To rent more cars than the competition?

"We do try harder, of course, but it's not about renting cars," Salerno said. "You can get the same car somewhere else. It's about saving a customer time."

Avis, he said, has always been at the forefront of time-saving technology among car rental companies, and they're in the process of releasing two new gadgets that will make life easier and more efficient for their customers.

"The first is a tollway pass, like E-Z Pass here in the [metro New York] area, or I-Pass in Illinois. You will no longer have to wait in line to pay in the manual lanes at the toll gates," Salerno said.

"And the second will allow customers to have a wireless Internet connection, right inside the car. And you can take the equipment into a hotel or presentation room and use it there, too. It's just $10.95 a day. That's cheaper than Internet service at a lot of hotels."

The product, called Avis Connect, will be available at the end of the month, but at the close of our conversation, Salerno offered to let me give it a test drive right away.

When Mike Caron, Avis' tech guru, came to give me a demonstration, I was surprised he was driving his own car, and not an Avis rental. I keep forgetting, it's not about the car.

During the drive, Caron had the opportunity to use the Avis E-Z Pass. It comes in a small carrying case, and when you want to use it, you slide the case open. If for some reason you would want to wait in line at the toll plaza, you would simply keep it closed.

Caron said that 25,000 units were available for the Northeast, and that it would be in 10 cities by the end of this month.

The wireless system worked flawlessly as we drove through the Meadowlands and the bleak warehouse districts of eastern New Jersey near the Holland Tunnel.

"If Avis can save you a half-hour at the tunnel with an E-Z Pass, I think you'll appreciate us," he said.

"Won't the other rental car companies just copy this and get their own passes, their own wireless systems?" I asked.

"Not copy," Caron corrected. "Mimic. Listen, others have GPS systems, but not even close to the quality of what we have. No other company has the breadth of our tollway pass program."

I asked him what time-saving devices were on the horizon for Avis.

"We're the literal and figurative connection between customers, the airlines and the hotel," he said. "That's where we're looking. If we could figure a way to get the customer out of baggage claim -- get the bags brought directly to the car -- that's the holy grail. Right now, we're looking at having a boarding pass kiosk in Atlanta where the cars are returned."

When I had brought up the "We Try Harder" slogan to Salerno, he said they originally tied it to their market share, i.e., "because we're No. 2, we have to try harder."

With the rise of Enterprise, they're now actually No. 3 (they're still behind Hertz), but Salerno said he wouldn't change the slogan if they became No. 1 tomorrow.

"It has more to do with going the extra mile for the customer," he said.

And for the Avis customer, it's about going that extra mile a little more quickly and productively.


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