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Hire car shortage in France ahead of post-lockdown summer 2021

Fewer cars and a sharp rise for demand has seen hire costs more than double in several areas

14 May 2021
A man handing over some car keys. Hire car shortage in France ahead of post-lockdown summer 2021

Prices for rental cars have more than doubled in some areas at some companies Pic: Negative Space / CC0 / Pexels / Pexels License

By Hannah Thompson

Hire cars are in short supply in France and prices for rental over the summer months are rising by as much as 150%, as the public looks ahead to holiday plans after deconfinement.

The issue is due to several factors, including: 

  • A sharp rise in the number of residents looking to holiday in France – with foreign travel still uncertain
  • A rise in business demand as companies look to catch up on work they could not do during lockdown
  • Hire car companies’ business model, which sees them sell their fleet regularly and require new car stock. Many sold their cars at the start of the pandemic to recoup costs, leading to a lack of vehicles now
  • A lack of new cars being produced during the health crisis, due to the shortage of electronic chips

Vincent Moindrot, from care hire firm Carlili, told FranceInfo: “Today, we have nothing left. Since May, demand has doubled, and city people have wanted to travel.

“There are still some cars available for summer but we are already at 20% of reservations. That is unheard of for the month of May.”

He explains: “The market crumbled [during the pandemic], renters ordered less [and] there were one million fewer cars produced in the first quarter of 2021 because of the shortage of semiconductor chips, which are an essential component of a car.”

The pandemic has created a paradoxical situation, in that even though demand in 2020 was low compared to 2019, there is now still a shortage due to the lack of vehicles.

Some vehicles are in higher demand than others and the problem varies by region.

Pierre Feisthauer, from car hire website Carigami, told car blog leblogauto.com that availability for mini-vans and nine-seater vehicles, especially in Corsica, was already particularly low. 

In Nice, the last long weekend saw 80-90% of cars hired. 

Christophe Villière, commercial director of a car hire firm in the city, told BFMTV: “It was for basic category A [vehicles] such as Fiat 500s or Twingos, and category B, such as Peugeot 208s or Clios - the models that make up the vast majority of our rentals.”

As a result of the issues, prices for car hire have shot up by as much as 150% in some areas, compared to 2020 (an abnormally low year due to the health crisis), and by 50% compared to 2019.

Mr Moindrot said: “I would like to think that we have stayed reasonable in our price rises, but it is true that prices have risen.”

Some hire companies have managed to avoid the worst of the shortage, however.

The president of Sixt, Jean-Philippe Doyen, said: “We do not anticipate a shortage because we anticipated the stock renewal in autumn. We still have availability for all kinds of car, and we have also increased our availability of electric and hybrid vehicles.”

France is not the only country to be affected; the issue is being seen across Europe, as well as in the US. Prices at Hertz have been reported to be as much as 600 US dollars for two days (€495) for the most basic option.

 

Future industry change

Yet, Mr Moindrot is optimistic that the car hire industry will recover, but perhaps with some major changes in its operation model.

He said: “The market will not disappear. There will always be clients because there is a need. In contrast, we think that the industry will see a profound transformation. 

“Historically, rental companies buy large volumes of cheap cars and then put them up for hire. In the future, we believe that manufacturers will share the rental income with [rental] platforms.

He said that climate change could also bring about more changes to the industry. 

He said: “The car will not disappear as a means of mobility. We all need to travel hundreds of kilometres freely but we need to transform it. 

“We need to have fewer cars, by better distributing this resource among the various users. We also need to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles.”  

Tips to avoid being affected by the shortage this summer

  • Plan further in advance than normal and book your car hire early if you are going away

  • Plan to spend more than you might usually on car hire

  • Consider taking your own car if you are holidaying in France and driving there is possible

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