As a business traveller, one constant figure in your life is the chauffeur. He greets you at the airport with a placard and a smile, and then whisks you away to a day packed with meetings. At the end of the whirlwind business tour, he drops back in time for your flight back home. Are you ready to give this comfort up for the thrill and freedom of driving yourself around in a rental car?
According to Vineet Kumar, an employee of Deloitte, Hyderabad, a self drive car rental has its perks. “You get the freedom to drive the way you want to. You may stop wherever you feel like; you can take whichever route you desire and most importantly, the space and privacy without a chauffeur is something which makes one feel great.” But he prefers to use the self drive option only on leisure trips. “I generally don’t prefer using the self drive option during business trips, as every part of my trips are time bound.”
Maintaining the schedule, travellers say, is hard in India because of traffic snarls, the bad condition of the roads, lack of road sense and parking problems. “In India, traffic and parking are issues, whereas abroad, the directions are an issue. So it’s best to have a chauffeur who knows the route well rather than drive yourself,” feels G Ramachandran, Promoter and Director, Gold’s Gym India. Jitendra Sen, Area Sales Manager of Eris Lifesciences Pvt Ltd, also thinks it’s more pragmatic to hire a chauffeured car. “In a strange city, a chauffeur will be more conversant in the local language and will know the city better than I do.”
For many business travellers, the time commuting in the chauffeured car is utilised to increase productivity. Says Prakash Rao, CEO of Diplomat Group of Companies, “I don’t see any advantages of driving in India, especially when on business. I’d rather sit at the back and get some work done. I’d rather have someone else deal with the traffic and the haphazard driving.” However, when abroad, he opts for driving himself in a rental car. “I specifically got an international license to experience the roads there, especially the German autobahns.”
Ritu Makhija, CEO of SmartBrands India Pvt Ltd, also prefers self drive car rentals during trips abroad. “In the US and UK, I drive myself to meetings or events. You earn rewards, and it is cost effective when compared to taking a flight or train; moreover, it’s at your own comfort.” For Feroze Khan, the Operations Director of Park Pod Hotels, Chennai, self drive car rentals are efficient, economic and convenient. “Most of the cars come with navigation systems so it is hassle free to get to your location quickly and without asking for directions. You can pick up a car right at the airport and drop it at any of their branch locations or at times representatives themselves pick up the cars from your location.” However, in India, he finds it easier to hire a local cab with a driver. “It is economical, saves the trouble of driving in traffic and getting directions. I feel that this concept in India will take some time to really match up to international standards. With so many travel options, affordable chauffer driven cars and cheaper rates, it would be a lot of hard work for self drive car rentals to establish a presence in the domestic travel market. Slow progress in navigation and mapping of Indian roads would be big hurdles.”
Adarsh Rangaswamy, an E-Commerce Consultant based in Bangalore, feels otherwise. “I’m quite comfortable using it within India. The reason why I don’t use it while I’m abroad is because I’m not very familiar with routes and the way the system works. I would rather leave it to a local who’s familiar with bylanes and short cuts, so I can reach my destination on time. However, if I have some free time on my hands, I’m open to hiring a car and exploring new places by myself.”
Is India Ready For Self Drive Car Rentals?
The prerequisites for a self-drive rental are simple – a valid drivers licence, a credit card and proof of identity or residence. Yet, according to Sunil Gupta, CEO of Avis India, business travellers in India prefer to be chauffeured. “In Indian cities, the road conditions are bad, parking is a problem and road signage is poor. That’s why most people opt for self drive only when they are going out of the city on a leisure trip.” Ninety five percent of Avis’ business in India comes from chauffeured cars; overseas, self drive rentals account for 95 percent of the business, he points out. “It is expensive to hire chauffeurs abroad. Moreover, people usually travel with families and want privacy, and also want the fun of trying out an SUV or larger car.”
The good news is that Avis has seen a growth of 30-40 percent on a small base in the self drive sector. “There is demand in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore; the road infrastructure is way better than that in other cities.” That’s why Avis, which has all its cars licenced for both self drive and chauffeured rentals, has dedicated Toyota Etios sedans and Innovas for self drive rentals in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore – its biggest markets. “The rentals costs are on a daily basis, which begin from `200. A charge for collision and theft are credited on the customer’s credit card, but not debited.”
At Carzonrent, the charges for self-drive rentals upto three days are with a kilometre cap of 150 per day but the cap is removed if the rental is for more than three days. “The additional charges,” explains MD Rajiv Vij, “are only towards taxes or a pick up/drop facility and additional insurance cover if required by the customer.” The customers opting for self-drive rentals at Carzonrent are also largely leisure travellers, he adds. “Presently, self drive rentals are available in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad as in each of these cities, we also operate from the airport locations.” The trend of business travellers leaning towards chauffeured services, he says, arises, from the low rates at which chauffeurs are available in India, leading to a minor price differential between chauffeured and self-drive rentals. However, he adds, “The radio taxi industry has resulted in increasing chauffeur’s earnings by three folds and the trend of chauffeurs becoming more expensive in India is going to continue. This will result in a larger price differential and therefore, the self drive business will grow significantly over the next few years. Domestic tourism, development of highways, refurbishments of airports and incoming international travellers are all going to help in the expansion.” Other imperative factors that can drive the growth include parking infrastructure in the cities, interstate laws for the movement of self drive registered cars and insurance options for coverage of damages.