It’s no small task, but Luke Schneider wants to revolutionize the rental car game, and he’s starting in Dallas.
Schneider is the CEO of Austin-based Silvercar, an app-based rental service that is going live at DFW Airport on January 14. The idea behind the company is to save the customer as much time and effort by putting everything — from renting to unlocking the car to getting the receipt — on your smartphone. Oh, and the company offers only one car: a silver Audi A4.
“[Silvercar] came from one too many bad experiences at the rental car counter,” Schneider says. “As travelers, every category, from airlines to hotels, has seen a substantial amount of innovation over the last 40 years, but not car rentals. It’s become so commoditized that it’s all about the upsell and proliferation of car classes.”
“We wanted to offer a premium car that would offer many of the options that businesspeople might already have in their cars back home,” says CEO Luke Schneider.
Drawing inspiration from companies like Virgin Air, W Hotels and Uber, Silvercar aims to give a consistent experience that accommodates the modern traveler. Silvercar research revealed that the Audi A4 appealed to both sexes and that its underlying operating system allowed for easy integration of the app. Inside each Silvercar, the driver can use Google Earth, Sirius XM radio and a Wi-Fi hotspot for up to eight devices.
“We wanted to offer a premium car that would offer many of the options that businesspeople might already have in their cars back home,” Schneider says. “We also wanted a better experience renting. We’ve done away with so many friction points, like dealing with the whole ‘counter culture’ of picking insurance, fuel options, wondering if you’re going to get the car you want.”
Silvercar does have concierges, but it’s entirely possible to never speak to an employee during the whole process. The app — free for iOS and Android — allows you to pick your rental period, and it scans and unlocks your Silvercar. Scales measure how much fuel is charged to your account during the return process.
For refueling, Silvercar charges the market average for premium plus a $5 fee, instead of hiking up the refuel charges like other rental companies. Schneider says that you should have your receipt — on the app, of course — for the whole thing by the time you board your plane.
“Our saying is that our service is like a waitstaff,” Schneider says. “It’s exactly what you need, only when you need it and seldom necessary. In an ideal experience, you wouldn’t need to speak with anyone.”
The app — free for iOS and Android — allows you to pick your rental period, and it scans and unlocks your Silvercar.
Silvercar keeps its pricing competitive with other companies’ premium cars by taking a page out of Southwest Airlines’ business model. By only carrying the Audi A4, the company can keep pricing stable as well as maintain and shift capacity. Schneider says that Silvercar should cost about $90 per day, perhaps more depending on the situation.
“The incumbents offer everything from subcompacts to 12-person vans,” Schneider says. “But their profits are slim to none on those subcompacts, and the money is made with upsells or on the vans. We’re staying on one level so we don’t have to subsidize small cars with big cars.”
With its base in Austin, Schneider says that DFW was a natural choice to launch Silvercar due to its proximity and willingness to be on the front of technological innovation.
“They’re really on the edge of air travel,” Schneider says. “They ‘got us’ when we pitched Silvercar to them, and we ‘got them’ when they talked about providing a tech-abled service to their fliers. Plus, Dallas is one of the biggest rental spots in the country, and you have to drive to get around Dallas.”
But Schneider is quick to add that Silvercar aims to be a national brand. The company is currently in negotiations with multiple airports, but he says they must also “win the opener” at DFW. Depending on how things go, Schneider expects Silvercar to open in three or four more airports in 2013. He can’t say which ones are in play, but he says that tech-savvy areas like Seattle, San Francisco and New York City are high on the list.
“It’s about simplicity and modern traveling,” Schneider says. “It’s a premium car experience. We’re not about renting minivans to families in Orlando.