How to Start Your Own Hybrid Car Rental Company

via. Toyota Europe's Flickr page
Mr. Ali Salman With One of His Hybrid Vehicles

© Bonnie Hulkower

In 2007, Ali Salman was a Vice President of Marketing at Beverly Hills Rent-A-Car in LA. He was becoming dismayed at how dirty the beaches were and how smoggy the skyline was near his home in Orange County. He began to get upset and thought someone should do something to improve the water and air quality in southern California. He then remembered the Chinese proverb: “it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”

He took that message to heart and decided to open up his own green business, a car rental company called Simply Hybrids. Five years later, business is booming and growing at an annual rate of 26%. TreeHugger spoke with Mr. Salman about his hybrid car rental business and how he got to where he is today.

How It All Began

It was 1985 when Mr. Salman began his career in the car rental business with Budget car rental in Los Angeles. From Budget he moved onto exotic car rentals with Beverly Hills Rent-A-Car. In the past decade, Mr. Salman has noticed that some of the customers were becoming more environmentally conscious. At the time, Hertz and Enterprise were the only companies renting hybrid vehicles. Although these companies had hybrids, they initially only had a limited number so you needed to request the hybrid in advance or it would be sold out. Also in 2007, the hybrids were renting for $119 a day at Hertz and Mr. Salman thought that was too expensive for a daily rental rate.

He wanted to make renting a hybrid car affordable and to increase the options available to customers, so he started his own car rental company focusing on hybrid cars. It was difficult at first; when he started the company he risked his home credit. He started Simply Hybrid with just four cars: two Toyota Priuses and two Nissan Altimas. Google was instrumental in providing an initial push by marketing Salman's site for free, so the Simply Hybrid website received a good amount of traffic.

Types of Vehicles Simply Hybrid Rents

As the business has grown, Simply Hybrid has expanded from Priuses and Altimas to also carry alternative fuel vehicles, flex fuels and electric cars. He has also expanded to SUV hybrids, to include the 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe and the Toyota Highlander. Before Mr. Salman adds a new car to his fleet, he studies its criteria, if it isn’t genuinely environmentally friendly, he won’t bring it into his fleet. All of Simply Hybrid’s vehicles are equipped with navigation systems and with blue tooth compatibility. Mr. Salman believes that these amenities are important, especially for visitors. Simply Hybrid now has 32 cars they own, as well as another 16 they have access to if they need additional cars.

How He Built a Customer Base

1. Mr. Salman convinced some of his former customers to rent from him, by offering them a hybrid for the same amount, or slightly more money than they were previously paying for a regular car. In addition to selling the message of sustainability, he also convinced customers who were looking to save money. He knew that frugal customers would be interested in renting a hybrid because they would save money on gas, as gas prices in the Los Angeles area were almost $4 a gallon. 2. Simply Hybrid also offered free delivery of the cars to any location of your choice in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Another service they offer is for clients who fly into airports after delivery hours. Simply Hybrid partners with the Parking Spot who will shuttle the Simply Hybrid customer to the hybrid vehicle they rented at any hour of the night. 3. Other customers preferred not to drive, so Simply Hybrids offered a “you rent, we drive” option that was still half the price of the average limousine service in the area. 4. "Drive it before you buy it." Renting a hybrid is also a perfect opportunity for people considering purchasing a hybrid to try driving one for longer than a test-drive before making the purchase. Some of the Simply Hybrid employees came from working for car dealers and have been instrumental in connecting customers who are interested in purchasing a hybrid vehicle. Mr. Salman ensures through his car connections that his customers get a good deal on hybrid cars and not just the MSRP.

For $79 a day, it is really important to Mr. Salman that the customer is happy. He doesn’t want the customer to just rent a car, he wants to provide an enjoyable experience as much of his business is based on referrals.

Toyota May Be The #1 Hybrid Supplier, But They Can Be Difficult To Work With

The only company Mr. Salman has found hard to work with, surprisingly, was Toyota. With Toyota, Mr. Salman had to personally buy all the Priuses he owns. He couldn't buy the cars through his company, as Toyota told him that they don’t sell directly to car rental companies. Even though Priuses dominate the U.S. hybrid market, he found them unwilling to budge on helping a small business.

Who Are Simply Hybrid’s Clients?

Simply Hybrid has many Angeleno clients, as well as many clients from the San Francisco Bay area and from New York. Recently Salman has had more international visitors, especially people from the U.K. He has rented cars to people as far away as upstate New York and Alabama, shipping the cars for up to six months.

Where Does Mr. Salman See The Business Expanding?

Right now, Simply Hybrids only offers pickups from airports in the Southern California region. Mr. Salman hopes to expand soon to more locations, starting with the San Francisco Bay area and then moving on to NYC. He’s also always expanding the types of vehicles he has and is in the process of acquiring more luxury hybrids, including BMW's and Porches. Mr. Salman’s goal is to increase the variety and availability of hybrids, so that eventually each car company will have a hybrid model. Mr. Salman’s goal is to help move the movement, literally, by transporting people.