“Buy low, sell high.” That’s a goal for both stock traders and car buyers, especially fleet buyers. It’s also one of the reasons a savvy South Shore car rental company has 200-plus hybrids in its fleet.
Jack Vercollone, founder and president of VERC Car Rental, bought the vehicles earlier this year when gas prices were down and the hybrid prices were right.
VERC, now celebrating its 32nd year, is the largest family-owned independent automobile rental company in Massachusetts with locations in Plymouth, Marshfield, Quincy, Norwell, Rockland,Weymouth, and Middleborough.
“We’re a lot like the last of the independent local pharmacies and hardware stores, holding out against the big box companies.We were looking for a way to stand out, and the hybrids gave us that opportunity,” says Vercollone.
The additional 200 hybrids—150 Prii (Toyota’s preferred plural for the Prius) and 50 Camry hybrids— nowmake up the majority of compact and mid-sized vehicles in its rental inventory of more than 400 vehicles.
While one motivation for the switch was to set VERC apart in the industry, other factors, such as making an environmental statement and helping clients with fuel costs, went into the decision.
“We actually were responding directly to our customer feedback,” says Vercollone. “We’ve had as many as 50 hybrids in our fleet at times over the past two years. We believe that the public now is more interested in going hybrid. People genuinely are concerned about the environment, but let’s be realistic, it’s the gas prices that are pushing them to hybrids.
“When we first offered hybrids as rentals, many people preferred non-hybrids, especially older drivers who didn’t want to deal with the learning curve—the push-button start-stop switch, the different shifter, and the lack of engine noise.
“Each year, we find the public is more accepting. More and more people come back raving about how pleased they were with both the hybrids and how amazed they were at the fuel economy.”
Percentage-wise, Vercollone believes VERC has the most hybrids in its fleet of any US rental company. VERC also rents Mustang convertibles, 15-passenger vans, wheelchair accessible vans, moving vans, and three classes of SUVs and premium cars.
“In some ways, those 15-passenger vans are the most economical vehicles we offer,” he says.“A large group can travel together instead of taking two or three cars and that makes the economics work.”
Vercollone’s hybrids have been extremely reliable, although, he says, “We don’t keep them past their warranty. We’re usually trading them in by the time they reach 35,000 miles.
“Buying cars right and selling them right is a big part of the rental business. For example, we won’t be selling hybrids when gas prices are low and they’re not in demand.
“We are the David versus Goliath,” he says. “We need to offer a better product at a better price than the national brands and it’s tough to compete on price when you already can rent a car for the same price as you can rent a lawn mower.”
One way he’s done that is to offer the hybrid rentals at lower rates than major brands charge for similar-sized cars.“The hybrids cost 25 percent more than similar non-hybrid vehicles, but we don’t pass that cost along.”
Vercollone remembers those bumper stickers that say, “Think globally, act locally,” and says, “We’re the local company that acts globally.
Let There Be LED light
You don’t have to be particularly observant to notice that LED lighting has been playing a big part in automotive design.
A glance in your rearviewmirror will show new LED running lights in various designs, a styling advance that Audi used in a big way, including innovative shaping of its running lights and using the same pattern for amber directional signals.
Now you can add LED fog lamps to the portfolio, as the 2013 Ford Mustang GT shows that“the lights are on and someone’s home” in its new design, courtesy of Osram.
Danvers-based Osram Sylvania, an industry lighting leader, made an early splash with LED lighting for tail lights that revolutionized design possibilities. The vertical Cadillac designs and curvaceous Volvo SUV treatments were memorable.
Company representatives met with members of the New England Motor Press Association (NEMPA) almost a decade ago.Their predictions of how LED lighting would be incorporated in the industry were spot on.
The difficulty in engineering a true white light for headlights, as they predicted, delayed equal treatment in the front of the vehicle, but that obstacle has been cleared. Now OSRAM has a full-vehicle platform that will enable designers to increasingly incorporate lighting into coming vehicles. Continued...