NEW YORK --
Hurricane Katrina left the nations major car rental companies
scrambling to account for all their vehicles while struggling to
locate missing employees and put their lives and families back
car-rental firms with outlets in the region said last week it was
too early to estimate the monetary or operational impact that
Katrina had on their business. Besides, they stressed, for now they
are focused on disaster relief and employee assistance.
Even so, a
spokeswoman at Enterprise Rent-a-Car did venture to speculate that
the St. Louis-based company had likely lost scores of cars and tens
of millions of dollars in business since the Aug. 29
We have thousands
of vehicles misplaced, she said. But right now, were really focused
on helping and getting people where they need to go.
For their part,
Cendant Car Rental Group, parent company of Avis and Budget, and
Vanguard Car Rental USA, the owner of Alamo and National, said
losses were few but inventory appraisals are ongoing and cars are
now actually being moved back into the disaster area.
Enterprise rental centers -- under water or otherwise destroyed --
were still not operational early last week. That was down from 37
initial closures just after Katrina hit. Those that are back up
working have generators and are hand writing [rental] contracts,
the spokeswoman said. They may have no power, but they can at least
She added that its
hard to guess when area operations would return to normal, saying
that the firm expected a long recovery.
In the meantime,
Enterprise is moving mobile car-rental units to affected areas and
siting them near closed locations. The units have everything in it
ready to be plugged in and go, said the spokeswoman.
By the end of last
week, the company also had moved more than 10,000 vehicles to the
Gulf Coast to assist with relief efforts, and it planned to move in
About 3,000 of
those vehicles were rented to groups such as the Federal Emergency
Management Agency (FEMA), the Red Cross and insurance company
-- with 12 Avis and Budget locations out of service in Louisiana,
Alabama and Mississippi early last week -- is using its Baton
Rouge, La., airport outlet to rent vehicles to emergency workers
and government officials.
Every car we manage
to get into Baton Rouge is rented almost immediately, the majority
to FEMA and the Red Cross, said a spokesman for Cendant in
Both Avis and
Budget are thought to have sustained little damage to their Gulf
Coast inventories because most vehicles based in the area were
rented by evacuees and driven out of the area, he noted.
assessing, but we believe the impact was minimal, the Cendant
spokesman said. Still, we havent been able to get into many of
these places to actually check inventories, he said.
Vanguard, too, lost
a number of cars along with its rental location in New Orleans.
Like its competitors, it also faced the more immediate problem of
locating and assisting affected employees.
Were having some
trouble locating all our New Orleans-area employees and have not
reached them all as yet, said a Vanguard spokesman.
In one case,
Vanguard supplied emergency cash to its station manager in
Gulfport, Miss., who lost three family members and her home in the
Cendant has put
many of its 250 Avis and Budget employees in the affected region
into temporary housing and hotels.
And Enterprise --
with 21 missing employees -- is supplying $3,000 cash grants to
workers under severe strain from post-Katrina trauma; a dozen had
accepted, according to the company spokeswoman.
The firm also
established a toll-free employee assistance number at (800)
239-2886 and a Hurricane Katrina information Web page at www.enterprise.com.
company also was maintaining benefits for affected
car-rental customers in the stricken zone were benefitting mainly
from waived one-way drop-off fees and preferential
reporter Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to [email protected].