DFW is Launch Site for Tech-Driven Car Rental Company

Kathy Scott
Published in: 


Project: New Rental Car Vendor

Location: Dallas/Fort Worth Int'l Airport

Concessionaire: Silvercar

Points of Difference: Company only rents silver Audi A4s; renters use smartphone app to check cars in & out 

Facility: 1,000 sq. ft. of interior space; 11/2-acre turnaround; new car wash

Buildout Cost: $1 million

Architect: PGAL

Designer: Red Earth Designs
Contractor: VCC

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) already had 10 rental car vendors serving its travelers, but officials welcomed NO. 11, Silvercar, in mid-January.

"We can accommodate growth," says Ken Buchanan, executive vice president of Revenue Management at DFW. "There's always room for an engaged concessions team, and Silvercar was strategically aligned with our goals."

With initiatives such as free Wi-Fi and a new mobile app taking center stage at the airport, Buchanan sees Silvercar's smartphone-centric approach to car rentals as one more way DFW is leveraging wireless technology to service customers..

Speed and efficiency are at the core of the new strategy. While most customers arriving at DFW's Rental Car Center typically wait in line at various vendor counters, Silvercar customers walk directly out to the lot. That's because they can log into their Silvercar profiles via a smartphone before they arrive - even while riding the airport shuttle. Customers simply scan the bar code on any car's dashboard to unlock the door and pop open the trunk with a wireless signal.

Finding the right car is a non-issue, because Silvercar rents only one make and model: the Audi A4, in - you guessed it - silver.

"Using a single make and model eliminates any surprise," explains Silvercar Chief Executive Officer Luke Schneider. And that's a scenario familiar to rental customers at many airports.

Schneider, a mechanical engineer with an MBA from Carnegie Mellon University, served as chief technology officer of Zipcar before leading Silvercar.

The decision to select Audi as Silvercar's official "company car" was based on numerous factors. Form, function and perception were important considerations, explains Vice President of Business Development Todd Belveal. As such, all rentals include integrated Wi-Fi, a GPS navigation system, satellite radio and pairing for Bluetooth headsets.

Brand perception was key. Arriving at a meeting in a Mercedes - rented or otherwise - could send a negative message to current or potential customers, Belveal explains. "We want Silvercar drivers to feel, smart, inspired and confident, not sensitive to the fact that they are in a car that may be perceived as too luxurious," he elaborates. "Audi, while definitely a brand in the premium sedan class, is defined more by utility and engineering."

Even the company's namesake silver color is strategic, notes Schneider: It's the No. 1 preferred color for car buyers.

Silver does not equal­ 2nd Place

Returning the silver Audis to DFW is also executed via the company's smartphone app. Upon entry, a video camera scans the car for damage. If the gas tank is not full, an average cost per gallon is calculated based on area gas prices and added to the rental charge with a $5 one-time convenience fee. With an introductory rate of $75 per weekday, the company is initially attacking the rest of the industry on pricing as well as technology. 

To date, DFW is Silvercar's only airport location; but company officials indicate more will be opening soon. The Austin-based company also operates an outlet just outside Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Texas. That operation, however, is a holdover from a location established for Austin's annual South by Southwest music festival.

At DFW, the company is shaking up a long-held industry-wide business model that has prompted most customers to view rental cars as a commodity with few distinctions across companies. By adding a vendor that overhauls the rental process with technology that is increasingly shaping all types of consumer behavior, DFW reinforces its other tech-centric initiatives such as free in-terminal Wi-Fi. The airport further caters to smartphone-toting travelers with an app that provides flight information and tracking, parking availability updates and information about restaurants and other concessions.

Customers, it seems, are responding: More than 6,000 downloaded DFW's app during the first quarter of this year.

Outside data guides and validates the airport's moves. Concur Technologies ranks Dallas in the top 10 cities for business travelers, and a Google/Ipsos study - The Traveler's Road to Decision - indicates that more than half (57%) of all business travelers use a mobile device to access the Internet.

The number of travelers accessing airport info and services via smartphones seems destined to grow, as 1 million Androids are activated daily. Cisco data predicts that there will be more mobile devices on Earth than people before the end of the year.

While Buchanan acknowledges the revenue benefit of adding Silvercar, he also sees ancillary advantages in how the company is raising the bar for other vendors. "Partnering with a tech company helps create efficiencies in all areas," he says. "It helps all of us to get better."

Shiny & New

As part of its integration into DFW, Silvercar spent $1 million on the buildout of its facility. In addition to remodeling a 11/2-acre turnaround and installing a new car wash, the company created a standout interior scheme for its 1,000-square-foot space.  

The design does away with traditional rental car counters. Instead, it pulls aesthetic cues from the Audi A4 by integrating silver finish materials against black leather wall coverings and burl wood veneers.

An open seating area outfitted with leather furniture and iPads mounted on kiosks is another customer service feature that bucks the traditional model. The area also echoes the leather interiors of the company's fleet.

For many DFW travelers, however, the facility's most attractive feature is its lack of lines. "The customer wants to be empowered; they value speed for getting in and out," explains Buchanan. Silvercar, he explains, literally allows travelers to hold their own service experience in the palm of their hand.


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