Car Rental Site Thinks Green, And Not Just About Profits

Travelers looking for a way to assuage their guilt over the polluting ways of their rental car, and save money in the process, might want to visit VroomVroomVroom.com. The online car rental booking site, which launched a version for U.S. consumers last month, claims to find the “cheapest car rental deals in the United States.”

In an effort to differentiate the site from other car rental destinations, company CEO Peter Thornton is promoting its eco-friendly advantages. Thornton has pledged to pick up the cost of the carbon footprint for anyone booking through his site and “spend money on neutralizing that carbon with various green initiatives.”

According to the Web site, “Burning one gallon of gas produces approximately 20 pounds of carbon dioxide, so the total carbon produced by an individual rental car is dependent on the distance driven and the fuel efficiency of the individual car. VroomVroomVroom will estimate the amount of carbon produced by each car rental based on type of car, length of rental period and data on average mileage driven.”

The move is a “nice marketing ploy,” said Bill Moore, editor of Evworld.com, a site devoted to clean driving and vehicles. “There are a lot of people who try to get around renting cars when they travel, for both economic and environmental reasons,” Moore said. “This is something that could get them to book a car if they were refraining for the latter.”

Although new to the U.S., VroomVroomVroom launched in Australia in 2002 and then successfully expanded to the U.K., Canada and elsewhere. Visitors to the U.S. site, which is based in Las Vegas, can make reservations with most major car rental brands at 2,000 U.S. locations. The Web site lists Avis, Alamo, Budget, Enterprise, Hertz, National and Thrifty.

Thornton bought VroomVroomVroom three years ago with the intention of making it a site for the eco-conscious traveler. But this is the first year he has pledged to offset the carbons. “I first wanted to make sure the company was successful,” Thornton said. “Then I want it to be a place that reflects the values of our customers.”

The company has partnered with CarbonNeutral, New York, an environmental group that plants trees in exchange for cash to offset emissions according to a formula.

“I have not received my first bill yet,” Thornton said. “So I really don’t know how much I have to pay. But it is just doing our part to help the environment.”

Thornton’s concept has both potential problems and possibilities, said Neil Abrams, a car rental industry consultant. “The travel industry now has suppliers and services that are virtually indistinguishable, and the consumer doesn’t know the difference between Priceline and Kayak and Carentalexpress.com,” Abrams said. “This is a differentiator and a marketing expense. He’s got balls.”

And, if the checks turn out to be too big? “He’ll stop doing it or he’ll be out of business,” Abrams said.

The brand follows the lead of a number of other companies in the travel category that are becoming eco-friendly. Last year, for example, Norwegian Cruise Line signed a multiyear agreement with the Port of Los Angeles to commit its Norwegian Star ship to environmental programs. Also, a number of car rental agencies and car service providers operate a fleet of hybrid cars, usually at a price premium. Avis, for one, is promoting the Toyota Prius hybrid in print ads.