The origins of the car rental business can be traced back almost as far as the introduction of economical, mass produced motor cars, notably the Model T Ford, in the United States in the early 20th century. One of the first recognisable fleets of rental cars was that operated by one Walter L. Jacobs in Chicago, Illinois from 1918 onwards. Mr. Jacobs started with a dozen Model T Fords, but within 5 years his car rental business was generating $1 million a year in revenue. The business was sold to John Hertz and subsequently to General Motors (GM) in the Twenties and, after beginning European operations in the Fifties, Hertz went on to become the largest car rental company in the world.
Following World War II, the growth of the car rental industry went hand-in-hand with the growth of the airline industry. The concept of “fly drive” car rental, where airline passengers fly to their destination airport, collect a hire car and drive away, was developed by Hertz and another company, Avis, who opened franchises at airports in the US. Avis established branch operations across the US, in New York, Chicago and Dallas amongst others, during the Forties and by the Fifties had opened its first international offices in Europe and elsewhere.
The car rental business remains closely tied to air travel, but competition in the industry has been intense since the Sixties, with the emergence of smaller, but nonetheless successful, car rental companies. Hertz now operates from approximately 7,700 locations in 145 countries worldwide, while Avis has some 40,000 branches worldwide.
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