As with many airport-centered activities, the process of renting a car is enough to confound the most seasoned of travelers. Fortunately, there’s an app for that. What the on-demand economy did to the taxicab experience it is now doing to the rental-car experience. And the unlikely movers in this game are carmakers themselves—specifically, European luxury brands. The BMW Group and Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler have each dipped big toes into the on-demand rental-car business with their ReachNow and Car2Go services, but these upstarts remain tightly focused on early adopters in tech-nerdy places like Brooklyn, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon. Volkswagen-owned Audi, however, has its eyes on a much bigger prize.
Last year, the German automaker acquired Silvercar, an Austin-based startup that was already making good on its promise to radically streamline the fly-and-drive process: no more janky shuttle-bus rides or dire warnings about damage wagers and refueling surcharges and, best of all, no more cigarette-burn beaters with three hubcaps and an AM radio. Through a slick smartphone app, Silvercar users can book one of the company’s Audi A4 sedans—all brand new, all identically equipped, and, yes, all silver—at a growing roster of U.S. airports. The camera-enabled app scans a QR code on the windshield, which starts the rental period, unlocks the doors, and even pops the trunk for your bags. Moreover, the app pushes your itinerary to the car’s in-dash navigation system for a quick getaway.
Since taking the wheel, Audi has put into motion some ambitious expansion plans for Silvercar. The service is currently available in 18 cities, with more debuting by summer, and the fleet now includes the excellent Audi Q5. The new crossovers land at nine Silvercar locations—Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Phoenix, Seattle, and Salt Lake City—and like the company’s A4 sedans, they’re loaded: navigation, satellite radio, and even onboard Wi-Fi. Rates start at a competitive $49 per day for the A4 and $69 per day for the Q5. There are no mileage restrictions and no fees for child-seat rentals, and all vehicles include highway toll transponders that add tolls to your bill with no additional charges. Of note to newbies, the company is presently offering a 30 percent discount for first-timers.