Hello, and welcome to the latest version of Ask Doug. I’m your host, Doug, and you — the Oversteerists — are my question-askers. And today, we have a whopper.
Of course, as always, if you’d like to participate in Ask Doug, you can! Just send me an email at OversteerDoug@gmail.com, or shoot me a note on my Facebook page. I’m always happy to respond — or possibly scowl at your letter if you write something stupid.
This week’s letter comes to us from a reader I’ve named Terry. Terry lives in West Virginia, or possibly Alaska, or maybe New York, and Terry says:
Why is it that rental car companies never offer Hondas. The American brands (Ford, GMC, Dodge, Chevy) are pretty ubiquitous. Kia and Hyuandi (sic) are perhaps even more common, as are VW Jettas. Sentras and Altimas are everywhere, Mazda2s abound (shudder), and you’ll even an occasional Yaris or Corolla. So why no Civics, Accords or CR-Vs? It’s the only non-luxury brand that’s left out!
For those of you who don’t want to read Terry’s letter, presumably because he spelled Hyundai as "Hyuandi," allow me to sum it up for you: Terry is asking why there are never any Hondas at car rental places. You show up to rent a car, and you’re always presented with a wide variety of choices that often include at least one base-model Camaro with no floor mats, but there’s never a Honda. Why is that? See the Honda models for sale near you
Well, Terry, you’ve asked the right person. I worked at Enterprise Rent-A-Car for a summer during college, approximately 8 years ago, which makes me a bona fide expert on the inner workings of the rental car business. I would say that my duties ranged from running the company and its thousands of employees to making coffee for the people at my branch office — although, if I’m honest, I did slightly more of the latter.
OK, fine: I admit a 20-year-old kid working at a rental car agency doesn’t know all that much about rental cars, aside from how to vacuum potato chip crumbs out of the middle seat-belt hole. But I know the answer to this one, because I had the very same question, and I once asked all of my bosses, "Why don’t we have any Hondas?"
The answer was simple: Honda doesn’t do fleet sales.
I’m serious. That’s all it was.
Here’s how rental car companies buy all their cars: They have so many vehicles to purchase that they don’t go anywhere near a dealership, like a normal human. Instead, they call up some automaker’s fleet manager — like, say, Chevy’s — and they say, "Gimme 400 base-model Camaros. Make sure they don’t have any floor mats." Then, they get 400 base-model Camaros, all without floor mats. People rent them, and it’s great. Then, some guy like me vacuums the potato chip crumbs out of the middle seat-belt hole.
Well, Honda doesn’t play this game. They don’t do fleet sales. And here’s the crazy thing: As you probably know, the Toyota Camry has been the best-selling car in the U.S. for the last 40 million years, since Toyota of the Cretaceous Period sold one to a teenage diplodocus. Well, guess what? The only reason the Camry beats out the Accord every year is that Toyota sells to fleets, and Honda doesn’t! In some years, the Honda Accord could have the distinction of best-selling car if Honda would just sell to fleets, like Toyota does — and yet, they absolutely refuse to.
Which brings us to the next question: Why doesn’t Honda sell to fleets?
There are many, many answers to this question. One is that fleet sales mean lower profit margins, and Honda would rather sell the cars to retail buyers and make more money. Another is that fleet sales tend to hurt resale values, since the market is flooded with additional examples of your vehicles. A final one is that bulk fleet sales tend to come about because automakers have agreements with unions that factory workers must work a certain minimum number of hours — so even if there’s no demand for a vehicle, the factory should keep building it, because it’s better to make extra cars than pay workers to do nothing. Obviously, those cars usually wind up going to fleets. Honda doesn’t seem to have this volume problem.
And so, Terry, the world keeps spinning. The wind keeps blowing, the sun keeps rising, and Honda keeps avoiding selling cars to rental fleets — even though it would turn the Accord into the best-selling car in America. Find a Honda for sale
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.