HOUSTON -- Germany-based car rental giant Sixt entered the U.S. market about 10 years ago in Florida but had a relatively small U.S. presence before the pandemic.
The company now has about 100 locations in the U.S. and has ambitions for additional growth.
After the pandemic hit, the demand for car rentals plunged. But early during the pandemic, Sixt made what its U.S. president and CFO, Tom Kennedy, called a "bold move." It bought 10 airport locations from Advantage, putting Sixt in all three major New York-area airports as well as Houston, Orlando and Las Vegas, among other markets. Then it bought a few more.
Later in 2020, Sixt hired Kennedy, a former executive for Hertz and Vanguard (the parent of National and Alamo before Enterprise bought those brands).
Sixt is now present at 36 of the 50 U.S. airports it considers most important, the company said in its second-quarter earnings report in August. Earlier this year, it opened airport locations in Charlotte and Baltimore. Its first Canadian location in Vancouver opened in July. Toronto is next.
Sixt said that U.S. revenue increased by 66.1% in the first half of the year, to a little more than $400 million (394.7 million euros). And Sixt said it is "growing profitably in all markets."
Many options for premium car rentals
Sixt's bright-orange branding is memorable but so is its fleet mix. At an event in 2018 to celebrate Sixt's entry into the New York market via an off-airport location, Sixt revealed an exclusive partnership with Cadillac.
In addition to Cadillac, Sixt's fleet includes models from BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Mini and Land Rover.
The price to rent a BMW X3 from Sixt hovered at around $88 a day this summer at Houston Bush. Photo Credit: Rebecca Tobin
Kennedy said 40% of Sixt's vehicles this year would be considered luxury, according to a third-party data source; the closest competitor would be 17%, he said.
"We're targeting a subsection of demand with a premium positioning," Kennedy said.
Kennedy also said Sixt's cars have relatively few miles on them. "People care about mileage," he said, adding that premium cars "need to be younger when you remarket them."
There are several types of travelers for whom a premium rental might be appealing, such as the corporate traveler who wants to make an impression at the client meeting (Sixt can handle split billing, so business travelers can pay the difference on what their company will reimburse). There's also the bleisure customer who wants a bigger, nicer car on the weekend. Or the driver who sees an opportunity to do an extended test drive of a model they're curious about.
Customers who are not in market for a luxury rental can opt for a Nissan, Toyota or similar vehicle from Sixt. However, a recent check of prices at Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport on Sixt's website showed that a BMW 3 Series was only about $13 a day more expensive than a Toyota Camry.
Earlier this summer, I had family business that took me to Texas, and Sixt gave me an opportunity to drive one of its vehicles. After landing in Houston, I negotiated my way to the car rental building, and about 20 minutes later I was easing out into steamy, midmorning traffic behind the wheel of a BMW X3 with a little less than 40,000 miles on it.
I've rented Minis and Mercedes in the past but did so from a boutique company that specializes in ultraluxe makes and models.
The X3, by contrast, can be rented in multiple markets around the U.S. At Houston Bush, the price in mid-September hovered around $88 a day.
Sixt continues to branch out
In Houston, the in-terminal experience with Sixt was fast and friendly. The physical plant has, as Kennedy described it, a "clean, modern look." And there was no mistaking its presence in the rental terminal: Each clerk's desk was lit from within by an orange glow.
Sixt's orange branding isn't necessarily limited to the office. In a bid to grow its profile, Kennedy said Sixt would do more airport advertising. It also is shoring up travel partner relationships. A newly built-out sales team is courting corporate and leisure agencies.
"Germany is the largest market, U.S. second-largest and growing," Kennedy said. "It will eclipse Germany at some point. That's my goal."