But this comes at a time that rental fleets have shrunk. When demand dropped last year during the pandemic, companies sold off a large proportion of their rental fleets to raise cash. Auto dealers and sales centers gladly snapped up those offerings due to a shortage of used cars. That leaves rental companies scrambling to find vehicles to ramp up supply, says Lauren Fix, editor in chief of Car Coach Reports.
A shortage of semiconductor chips used in high-tech automotive systems, as well as a scarcity of rubber and steel, has slowed auto plants and the production of new cars. “Fleet sales are last in line, so it has been difficult to quickly ramp up fleets to match demand,” says Mark Mannell, CEO of CarRentalSavers.com.
Like many firms, Enterprise Holdings, which runs Alamo, Enterprise and National, says it's finding it hard to acquire new cars due to the semiconductor chip shortage.
"We continue to work closely with our manufacturing partners to secure additional vehicles,” the company said in a statement. “If you're planning travel, we encourage you to reserve a vehicle as early as possible. Providing flexible travel dates and branch pickup locations in your search may also help increase your options."
Jonathan Weinberg, CEO of AutoSlash.com, was one of the first to identify the problem back in February, when he warned of a coming “car rental apocalypse.” He expects it to get worse in the coming months, citing Montana — expected to be a hugely popular destination this summer — as an example.
Car rental agencies at the airport serving Glacier National Park in Kalispell, Montana, are completely sold out for the summer, he says. And the problem has spilled over to airports more than 100 miles away, in places like Missoula and Bozeman, as travelers look for other rental options across the region. The same thing is happening in Alaska.
Due to that demand, prices are soaring.