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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
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