Class Warfare’s New Target: Silvercar

The Atlantic runs a piece that argues the real allure of a service like Silver — a car rental company that offers uniformly good cars, filled with features, and all-in pricing — is avoiding other people and not having to see Ford Tauruses.

I disagree. Luxury services nearly always require seeing and being seen by others if they’re about making the customer feel better than someone else. It’s a novel theory indeed that Silvercar is selling the luxury of not interacting.

That’s especially strange when Silvercar offers more service from people. In Austin at least you get picked up by a person and driven to their off-airport location. You are taken in a car, for sure, but you are driven rather than walking directly across to your car there where the major agencies are located. And you’re checked into a vehicle by that person, instead of just getting into your assigned car (Hertz, Avis) or choosing your own car (National) and going.

Joining a frequent renter program with the major agencies is the true path to not interacting with others… not Silvercar.

They’ve got a personality that’s different though. Avis eliminated their ‘we try harder’ slogan (perhaps they no longer do) but Silvercar greets customers brashly:

For Silvercar, “not sucking” means not being like traditional rental car companies. The rest of my on-arrival text message drives the point home. At the end of their detailed instructions, Silvercar urges me: “do NOT go to the purple ‘rental cars’ sign. That’s for those who’ve already given up ;)”

But in a world where no publicity is bad publicity, I’m happy for Silvercar that it’s being marketed presumably to The Atlantic’s core customer base because I hope it succeeds. I want competition over quality and not just price or more specifically I want competition over both in order to provide a strong package of both quality and price.

The shared rental bus does “suck” and getting Taurus after Taurus (or even Sentra) may be the ultimate in first world problems but for someone who rents a car and drives a lot dozens of times a year it is certainly less pleasant than driving a nicer car. Little luxuries on the road can be really comforting.

I’ve rented from Silvercar twice.

  • The first time the rate for one day was $59, and I used a $50 off coupon. The price was $9 plus tax or $13. And I earned $25 for being referred by a reader.
  • The second time I used a 30% off coupon code (that I got for filling out a survey) and that made Silvercar $2 per day more than my next alternative.

They’re not the cheapest, but they are at least attempting a value proposition that’s new and different. Their customers are most likely to be business travelers booking away from expensive mid-week airport options, not the super wealthy who don’t need to drive themselves.

In any case, the last thing we need is a right wing or left wing perspective on the subject of rental cars.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I rented Silvercar in SFO for a couple of days for work. They were actually cheaper to rent from than Avis (for a full size).

    Overall it was a great experience, but I don’t know if I’d give them a nod over traditional rental car companies. The whole process is so seamless nowadays, especially if you’re part of the loyalty program, that the main reason you’d rent Silvercar is (a) if they’re cheaper, or (b) you really want an Audi over a normal consumer fullsize car. For my part, I like riding in Fords just as much as Audis, so the added luxury aspect is a plus, but not a dealmaker.

  2. its price, price, price in the land of Wal Mart and McDonalds…I don’t think they can survive with their value proposition.

  3. I agree that they need to be competitive on price to succeed. That’s what companies focus on. That’s what most consumers focus on. As long as they have coupons out there that bring them down to a comparable rate people will try them. At a higher rate there is just not enough difference to justify paying more.

  4. I’m so sick of this “Class Warfare” meme. It’s rarely the lower classes complaining. They want the Upper Class privileges just as much as anyone. It’s typically the Upper Class vultures that use the “look, shiny object” approach of pointing at the privileges of others to distract people who otherwise might well be pointing at them.

    Classic example is Al Gore, who has amassed a net worth or well over half a Billion dollars by criticizing the energy “footprint” of others. While he personally uses as much energy as a small town. Same with SuperModel Elle Macpherson, who wasn’t satisfied with her net worth of $45 Million, so she married Billionaire Jeffrey Soffer last summer. She is a very loudly self proclaimed “Socialist” don’t you know. I don’t think that word means what she thinks it means….. 😉

  5. No, we don’t need the left wing forcing their preference that we all walk or rent bicycles or in the worst case, that rental car companies only offer Chevy Volts and Prius.

    I would rent from Silvercar – their prices seem to be just about half what I paid for a 2 day rental in LAS last week for a POS Hyundai from Budget (Corp Policy) and Audi A4’s look pretty sweet.

  6. “the last thing we need is a right wing or left wing perspective on the subject of rental cars.”

    I prefer left hand drive and a wing that runs from left to right on the trunk.

  7. I read the article and have to say I found in insightful and only minimally dogmatic (certainly less so that Gary’s response). What dogma there is is more populist than left wing.

    More importantly, I found the arguments made in the article well-supported rather than knee-jerk (while I find the response to be otherwise).

    The point of the article is that SilverCar’s selling point is an elite experience (you don’t go to “loser line” at the rental counter, they slyly suggest that if you rent from them you likely also have elite status with your airline, and so on) and that this elite experience is in part illusory since their service is ultimately not that dissimilar from a standard car rental company.

    It is certainly true that there is a divide in the travel community between people who value “aspirational” travel products and people who care only about the utility of travel products. What SilverCar is trying to sell is an aspirational car rental experience, which will naturally appeal to the kind of person who, for instance, feels their hotel experience is enhanced by having a suite rather than a standard room.

    There’s plenty of place in the market for both utilitarian and aspirational products of this sort. Rather than create a false argument about class warfare, why can’t we just accept that different people value different things? Vive la difference, I say.

  8. Unless they’re available at more than 5 airports and are willing to pick me up curbside, I don’t see how they’re at all different other than having a bunch of Audis and being snarky. I don’t mind either one, but frankly the one thing that I can’t stand is the rental car bus. Get me a way around that and I’ll be a customer. As it is now, though, National is at every airport I frequent – I need to get on a shuttle, but that’s the same as anybody else. I don’t have to interact with anyone if I don’t want to, I just pick my car and go. Ironically, I’ll take a Taurus from the Executive aisle if I see one. It’s a better ride than a lot of near luxury cars.

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