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Some People Can Now Rent Cars Through Lyft, Though We're Not Sure Why They Would

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Lyft disrupted the taxi space. Then it invented the bus. Then it got into scooters. Now, it’s created a service that’s like Enterprise Rent-A-Car except... well, actually, it’s basically just Enterprise.

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Maybe that’s why Lyft hasn’t publicized the program very much. While it’s been reported in Engadget and Business Insider, there hasn’t been a lot of promotion by the company itself. For now, it’s only available in Oakland, Los Angeles and San Fransisco. It was brought to our attention by a story in Business Insider, where a few reporters checked it out.

Lyft currently the Volkswagen Atlas and Passat in San Fransisco and Oakland. Users in Los Angeles can pick between a Mazda CX-5 and Mazda 3. Business Insider reported that the Passat was listed for $75 per day, which isn’t actually cheaper than a traditional rental car company.

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You also still have to go to pick up the car, but Lyft offers up to $40 in ride credits to get to and from the pickup location. This is nice, though Enterprise has been providing free transportation to their locations for so long that “Pick Enterprise. We’ll Pick You Up.” was the company’s slogan way back in 1995.

Lyft will also include complimentary add-ons like tire chains and ski racks on request. All cars also include Lightning and micro-USB cables to connect your phone. Those are nice additions, too, but not exactly gamechanging.

The minimum age for drivers is 22 and Business Insider notes that there doesn’t appear to be a fee for drivers under 25. In some cases, then, this could be a cheaper option than traditional rental car services.

Since it’s an app-based rental service, it may seem more comparable to Zipcar. But Zipcar is built around hourly rentals, where you use a car for short trips and simply leave it in a parking space when you’re done. Zipcar also includes free gas. Lyft’s rental car service is more traditional, where you go to a rental car location and pick the car up, and, as far as we can tell, cover your own gas.

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So while certain cars may be cheaper for people aged 22-24 or people who need a ski rack, it’s hard to see how exactly Lyft’s new service “disrupts” much of anything.

Like the company’s scooter business, the rental car experiment by Lyft seems to be a case of the company looking at a lucrative industry and deciding that it wants in, even if it can’t offer a better experience. And ike the scooter service, bookings are handled in the same Lyft app that you use to hail rides.

Mack Hogan is Jalopnik's Weekend Editor, but you may know him from his role as CNBC's car critic or his brave (and maligned) takes on Twitter. Most people agree that you shouldn't listen to him.

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DISCUSSION

braddelaparker
Bob Loblaw Made Me Make a Phoney Phone Call to Edward Rooney

Let’s start with:

it’s hard to see how exactly Lyft’s new service “disrupts” much of anything.

“Disruption” is a dumb standard to hold things to, even if companies like Lyft built themselves on it and made it nauseating. Moving into new segments is what maturing/aging businesses do; not everything is going to be a revelation. This space has already been “disrupted” by Silvercar, but they still have too small a footprint and are fighting an entrenched model which protects even the most god awful and terrible of incumbents. Part of me thinks Lyft sees what Silvercar is doing and thinks they can replicate it with a much broader footprint, especially if they still have dry powder to burn.

Like the company’s scooter business, the rental car experiment by Lyft seems to be a case of the company looking at a lucrative industry and deciding that it wants in, even if it can’t offer a better experience.

As someone who spends a reasonable amount of time in rental cars, I have to disagree here; I think what they’re proposing could be a better experience. Being assured of something of at least the quality of a Passat/Atlas, easy app-based interaction, a consistently known and fixed price, and not nickle-and-dime’ing for the complimentary bits is enough for me to consider it alone at the $75/day price point, which is a competitive number for airport-based rentals, especially when the competition may put you in a Corolla for that same price.

I’m a a Silvercar disciple and refuse to use anything else for business (or personal) travel when Silvercar is an option. Unfortunately, Silvercar’s presence is growing but still fairly limited, and they can’t do one-way rentals. If Lyft can bring significant burnable funding to the table (something Silvercar didn’t have under its original founders and something that isn’t in the Audi corporate playbook now that they’re the majority owner), they can make the material impact that Silvercar has struggled to.

Will Lyft actually do any of this? Probably not, but I think there’s a real business case to be made here outside of fad-chasing. Silvercar has proved car rentals are broken yet easily fixable, but I don’t think they’re well-positioned to be the company to move the industry needle in the aggregate. Lyft might actually be, in a weird way, if they’re truly interested in doing it.