Silvercar – Is the End Coming?

Audi, Rental Car, Travel Apps
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What is Silvercar?

When Silvercar launched it revolutionized the rental car market. Everything was done digitally. You rent online or through the app, unlock your car at the rental location with your phone and get a copy of your bill via email. Every time you rented with Silvercar you knew exactly what you get. Silvercar only rents Audi vehicles. In the beginning, they started out with the Audi A4. All of the cars were silver, hence the name Silvercar and all cars were identically and were loaded with pretty much all the bells and whistles. Of course, there was some discrepancy as Silvercar acquired newer models and Audi changed what they offer and how the cars are equipped. Of course, again, all the new cars from that model year were the same. You also got satellite radio included with your rental as well as toll tags (where applicable). For example, in the San Francisco Bay Area, the cars came with Fastrak and you were only charged the actual fee you would pay to cross a bridge. No hidden administration and activation fees like you get with every other car rental company. Prices were comparable with regular car rental agencies for the same level of car type. If you consider all the extras you get with Silvercar, it was sometimes even cheaper to rent with Silvercar.

Silvercar Audi A4

History of Silvercar

Silvercar was incorporated in 2012 and only had a few locations to choose from in the beginning. They expanded rapidly as people liked the service. Silvercar had locations at many major airports across the country. The actually rental locations were usually off-site and not at the airport’s rental car facility. But their service was outstanding. You got picked up and shuttled straight to your car where you could transfer your bags into your car and head out the gate. This was sometimes even more convenient than going to the airport’s rental car center. In San Francisco for example, they pick you up curbside and drive you straight to your car. If you rent with the old-school car rental agencies you first had to board the automated people mover to the rental car center, get in an elevator, go to the counter, or even to your car if you were a member of their frequent renter program. It was so much more convenient with Silvercar.

Acquisition by Audi

Silvercar was acquired by the German carmaker Audi in April of 2017. I don’t know what the exact reasons are behind the acquisition. For Audi, Silvercar was definitely a competition to their own rental program – Audi on Demand. Audi’s own rental program was horrible expensive compared to Silvercar. To rent the same model, you would have paid a ton more than rather renting a Silvercar Audi. Well, you might have different color choices with Audi on Demand and some other minor differences but for a few days or week-long trip, it probably wouldn’t have mattered. The only thing which always matters is money. Audi did a small rebranding of Silvercar as well. It became “Silvercar by Audi”. Even the social media handles got changed to that. What was Audi afraid of? Did they really have to put their name into the company name itself?

More Locations

Even after the acquisition by Audi, Silvercar kept expanding. Besides airport locations, they also added more locations in dense city centers where you would want to rent a car. Like Manhattan and Downtown San Francisco. Silvercar already had city locations before the acquisition by Audi, like in Miami Beach’s South Beach. However, by going to Downtown San Francisco they were in direct competition with Audi on Demand as that was Audi’s home turf.

Silvercar MIA Station

Fleet Expansion

In the year of 2018 two more models were added to the fleet. First was the Audi Q5 followed a little bit later that year by the Audi A5 convertible. In 2019 the Audi Q7 was added to the rental fleet. Besides more models to choose from, Silvercar also added the option to have the rental car delivered to you and then pick it back up after the rental. Similar what Audi on Demand offered.

The year the pandemic hit

We all know too well what happened in 2020. The coronavirus pandemic hit and for the most part of the year, traveling came to a mere standstill. Air travel was as good as completely gone. People stayed home and took more road trips. However, rental car agencies also sold many of their cars to cut losses as the business travelers didn’t come anymore to rent the majority of their cars. I am sure Silvercar was hurting too. 

In the same year, Silvercar offered rental locations now at Audi dealerships in many cities which came at the cost of other locations closing. In November of 2020, they completely abandoned all of its airport locations and primarily focused on Audi dealerships. At the writing of this post, there are 27 locations. Except for two of them which are in Downtown Brooklyn and Columbus Circle in New York City, all of them are Audi dealerships. 

Audi Dealership in Seattle

Current State of Silvercar

These 27 locations don’t make it easy now to rent a Silvercar. The location in Seattle was at the north end of the city while the airport is south of the city. If you need to go downtown for your stay and you need a car, it’s easier to get a car anywhere else and then drive to downtown before you drive past downtown with a taxi or rideshare to pick up a rental car and then back downtown. However, the location at the Audi dealership in Seattle closed and the Silvercar location moved to a dealership in Fife, near Tacoma. Which is far south of the airport just to get a rental car. The location in Miami Beach is also gone. This was a location where I could see locals and tourists renting cars. Especially as there is a lot of money in the South Beach area. It’s sad what Silvercar has become. 

Silvercar in Miami

Maybe this was just a temporary move to only rent from dealerships during the pandemic. However, travel recovered quite nicely over the last few months. Especially the demand for rental cars grew enormously as people are more willing to travel again. They might not necessarily want to fly but many people are open for road trips.

Prognosis

With the current state of the company, I am not sure how long they can survive. Of course, Audi owns Silvercar now but at some point, they will have to cut their losses. The locations make it pretty much impossible for me to rent from Silvercar nowadays. I really don’t know how high the demand is currently to rent from a dealership location. It will be interesting to see where this leads. My prognosis is that Silvercar will probably cease to exist within the next two to three years if they don’t change their business model. Going back to having airport locations would probably help. Travel is rebounding. Currently mainly for leisure travel but also business travel is coming back slowly. 

What’s your take on Silvercar. Is my prognosis too harsh? I travel a lot, even during the whole pandemic. Therefore I am always in need of a rental car. Prices to rent cars are crazy right now. I would be more than happy to rent again from Silvercar but right now it is just too much of a hassle to do so.

Audi On Demand

It also seems like Audi on Demand is shutting down slowly too. Many of the regions on their website don’t work anymore. This includes the United States. It seems to be that Audi is actually shutting down these services but doing a bad job in updating their website and still giving us regions to select, that no longer have the service.

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