Superbrands case studies: Avis

Originally published in 'Consumer Superbrands Volume V', March 2003. The book reviews the UK's strongest consumer brands as judged by an independent judging panel.

Case study provided by Superbrands.


Avis is synonymous with vehicle rental. Alongside other major players such as Hertz, Budget, Europcar and new entrant, easyCar it dominates the sector. Indeed, Avis is the car hire market leader in the European, African and Middle Eastern markets, with around eight million customers annually (Source: Mintel).

In addition, Avis has the largest fleet and widest choice of vehicles with 34% of its total income derived from leisure use of its vehicles. This accounts for the biggest segment of its yearly revenue, ahead of corporate operations and prestige vehicle hire.

As a whole, the UK car hire industry has had to battle with a series of problems in recent years, including the fuel crisis of autumn 2000 and car-pricing realignment affecting supply chains. However, over a five year time frame, growth has still been seen in this market.


From humble beginnings at Detroit Airport, Avis has built itself into a world-leading brand and is an instantly recognisable name to consumers and business users all over the world.

Avis has successfully pioneered car rental in several international markets, including Central and Eastern Europe, where it subsequently expanded its operations. It was the first car rental company to open an office in East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall -- a move that helped it springboard into neighbouring former eastern bloc territories, like the Czech Republic and Romania. It has achieved a similar goal in the former Soviet Union and, when it opened an office in the Ukraine in 1997, became the first and only car rental company to have an office in every European country. This gives it an unrivalled European network -- including a presence at 75 major European airports.

The brand has been similarly pioneering in Africa, where it now has representation in over 85% of the region. Again, this has given it greater coverage than any of its competitors. In the Middle East, it is represented in 90% of the region and in Asia, is licensed to operate in 27 territories.

Avis has been similarly pioneering in its commitment to high customer service levels since the mid 1960s including the introduction of the first computerised reservation system Wizard, in 1972. It has also built one of the best partnership structures in the business, with almost 50 airline partners.


Warren Avis opened the first Avis office at Willow Run airport, Detroit, in 1946. At that time, he had a grand total of three cars, but it was the world's first ever car rental operation at an airport.

By 1953, Avis was the second largest car rental company in the US and already expanding overseas, opening franchised operations in Mexico, Canada and Europe. By 1963 it was struggling with a 10% US market share, compared to 75% for Hertz. It launched an advertising campaign that proved crucial in turning its fortunes around. The slogan, Were only No.2. We try harder emphasised its commitment to customer service and remains at the core of its brand today. The slogan has subsequently been recognised as one of the ten best of all time.

In 1965, Avis officially launched Avis Europe to look after its growing operations in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. By 1973, it was market leader in these areas -- a position it still holds today.

Avis entered a worldwide advertising and marketing agreement with General Motors in 1979 and began featuring GM cars in its fleet worldwide. In 1986, Avis Europe legally separated from its owner, Avis Inc, and became the first ever car company to float in the London Stock Exchange. In three years, it tripled its market value, before reverting to private ownership again in 1989.

In 1987, Avis Inc became employee-owned, with a £1.2 billion Employee Stock Ownership Plan -- this made it the largest employee owned company in the US and a role model for other companies to follow.

The brands impressive technological track record continued and in 1996 it became the first car rental company to launch a website -- www.avis.com, allowing customers to make or modify a booking online. The following year, Avis Europe re-floated on the London Stock Exchange to fund expansion of the business.

In March 2000, an all-new central reservations centre, based at Salford Quays in Manchester, went live. Staffed by 250 agents, the centre takes over two and a half million calls and makes over 150,000 outbound calls every year. Agents can speak English, French, German, and also handle fax, post and email reservations.


Worldwide, Avis has 5,100 rental locations and a fleet of 370,000 vehicles in over 170 countries. Annually, it completes around sixteen million rental transactions, generating annual gross revenue of approximately £1.7 billion.

The company maintains relationships with more than 50 of the world's airlines. Its network of outlets is split between those wholly owned by the company and licensees.

Avis was an early leader in technical support systems, with the introduction of its Wizard computerised reservation system in 1972. This is still in operation today and is the most extensive online, real time reservation, rental and management information system in the industry. Wizard controls the fleet, knowing where every car can be found, who they are rented to and when they will be returned. Wizard is also invaluable when it comes to managing company fleet costs and travel policy. Reports can be customised for corporate customers so they can optimise the management of their rental costs.

Thanks to partnerships with major airlines, Avis offers streamlined services at airports. For instance, with British Airways at Heathrow, customers can return their car and check-in for an onward BA flight at the same desk. With services like Avis Preferred, customers can enjoy some of the quickest service in the industry. Having completed a personal profile just once, customers can call ahead and then arrive at a Preferred desk to find a car pre-assigned with all the paperwork completed. Returning a car is just as quick -- the Rapid Return Service allows the vehicle details to be entered into a hand held terminal, which automatically calculates the bill and issues a receipt before the customer even reaches the desk. Prestige Cars offers customers top of the range vehicles from a Jaguar X type to a Porsche Boxster and its Chauffeur Drive service offers limousines with uniformed drivers.

Avis also provides services tailored for business users, like Avis Advance, and Maxi-Rent -- a flexible programme for long term rentals designed to facilitate fleet management.

Recent developments

Avis is continuing to promote responsible car usage. A core element of this is its partnership with Future Forests, an environmental task force planting trees to offset carbon emissions. Avis is the only car rental company working with Future Forests. Since 1999 Avis UK has been carbon neutral planting sufficient trees to offset the carbon emissions of the head office operations.

In 2002, the brand announced two major initiatives furthering its relationship with Future Forests. Firstly that all European operations are also to become carbon neutral and secondly car rentals booked online during the second quarter of 2002 had the carbon emissions offset automatically. Following the initial three-month promotion, online customers can offset their carbon emissions on their rentals for £1.

Avis has also introduced a car-sharing scheme, called Urbigo. This allows members, who pay an annual membership fee, to pick up cars from specially allocated points as and when they need them. It is designed to be a cost-effective alternative to car ownership or long-term rental. The scheme started in Oxford, but has now been developed in several locations in the London area.


Avis is one of the most promotionally active of the major car rental brands, making extensive use of media including press, outdoor, radio and the internet. Campaigns are run on a national, regional or local level, with additional promotional activity with key partners and on the web.

Recent national campaigns included a Jubilee promotion in the summer of 2002, to coincide with the Golden Jubilee celebrations. On a more localised level, to celebrate the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in August 2002, customers who booked a car at Avis in Manchester Airport during the Games received an Avis cool bag.

Joint campaigns with partners such as bmi british midland include direct mail, joint advertising, or most recently, email activity. In July 2002, bmi and Avis used a customer relationship management (CRM) campaign via email to inform all bmi passengers and loyalty club members of their services.

Avis also uses product placement as a branding tool, with inclusion in films such as James Bond's Tomorrow Never Dies.

Brand values

The company is driven by a singular vision which was established in 1965 -- to be the best and fastest growing company with the highest profit margins in the car rental business. These values are encapsulated in the We Try Harder slogan. From the 1960s, when Avis made a virtue of being second biggest but the best in terms of service, it has put the customer at the centre of the business. Empathy (understanding customer needs), Honesty (value for money and integrity) and Humanity (putting the customer first) underpin the We Try Harder philosophy. These values have contributed to Avis having one of the strongest and most consistent corporate cultures in the world.

Things you didn't know

  • Warren Avis got the idea for airport-based car rental during World War II when he was a bomber pilot. He used to carry his motorbike in the bomber so that he could always have transport wherever he landed.

  • Avis has planted in excess of 45,000 trees in the UK to offset carbon dioxide emissions made by cars.

  • All vehicles in the Avis Fleet use the latest low emission technology by operating a six-month rule -- no vehicle is more than six months old.

  • Avis has 140 offices in the UK, including offices on the Shetland and Orkney islands.

    © 2003 Superbrands Ltd