I’ve been a Zipcar member since 2007, and a reasonably satisfied one. Though I suspect that “car-sharing” will never live up to its initial hype, Zipcar works well for someone who needs a car occasionally: The site is easy to use, the car locations are usually convenient, and Zipcar pays for the gas.
Lately, though, Zipcar has felt like it’s nickel-and-diming me. The cars are getting shabbier and are poorly maintained (a bald tire exploded last year while I was driving somewhere in Queens). And especially since the weeks before and since the company filed to go public , extending a reservation — if, say, you’re caught in traffic — is now close to impossible without incurring a late fee. So I recently tried a competitor, Hertz Connect , which launched in 2009. For my purposes, there’s no difference on price or location, but there were some definite pluses: The Jetta I got had fewer than 8,000 miles on it, and the GPS included as standard was welcome. (A comparison by New York magazine reached similar conclusions.)
For reasons I can’t understand, however, Hertz treats Connect customers as though they live in another country — literally. Hertz Connect’s Web site indicates that the service is available in 19 states (principally in university towns). But if you need to get hold of Hertz Connect quickly — imagine that the location of the car you’ve reserved has involuntarily changed, and Hertz has failed to provide a phone number for the new parking garage — the “contact us” page on the Hertz Connect provides two choices. One is to fill out an e-mail form. The other is — this is a direct quote from the site — to “call your Member Care Centre on 08708 45 45 45.” Eagle-eyed readers will discern that this is a phone number for the United Kingdom. Furthering the impression that Connect customers are foreign is this page for Connect from the main Hetrz.com site , which contains a “breadcrumb” button that will take you “back to services in United States.”
What gives? Hertz is a rental-car mammoth that began in Chicago in 1918. The company took in a billion dollars of revenue in its last quarter. So why can’t its Web sites figure out how to give the right contact information to American renters? I put the question to Hertz PR people, who’ve thus far been silent. Given Zipcar’s advantage in the car-sharing space, Hertz’s bizarre treatment of its customers suggests that it may be a while before it catches up.