Fresh Approach

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When Hertz announced the name of its new CEO earlier in the year, the name Wils Raubenheimer didn’t roll off the tongue when put in a car rental context. By his own admission, he had no prior knowledge of the car rental industry. But that didn’t stop him from quickly finding his feet, rolling up his sleeves and getting to work. Editor Dylan Rogers managed to grab a few minutes of his time in Johannesburg.

To say that Wils Raubenheimer brings a fresh perspective to Hertz and the car rental industry is perhaps an understatement.

His background is in finance and he modestly refers to himself as a “stupid bean counter from Cape Town.” But Unitrans Automotive must have seen something in him, because he now has the task of leading one of the biggest car rental brands in South Africa, at a rather interesting time for the industry.

“Unitrans MD Brynn Stephenson said he was looking for someone who was ‘uncontaminated’, who didn’t come with car rental skills or know anything about the industry,” says Raubenheimer.

So, is that what Unitrans and Hertz got?

“Well, I think I’m a lot more aggressive and I have different views and ideas,” he says. “But, I strongly believe in the team approach.”

Raubenheimer has now had around nine months to assess the South African car rental industry. So, what does he think?

“I thought it was a simple industry,” he says. “I couldn’t understand how they struggled to be successful after I looked at the financials. Once I joined, I quickly realised that it’s a lot more complicated. There are so many dynamics, from motor manufacturers to staff, to the different locations, the exchange rate and inflation.

“It’s a very competitive environment, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well the industry interacts, and how we share information and problems.”

And what are those problems?

“The damage to vehicles is currently a huge problem,” says Raubenheimer. “SAVRALA (Southern African Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association) is trying to form a sub-committee to look at the issue and do some research into why it’s happening. I’m doing the same at Hertz.”

Does that mean that South Africa is a nation of bad drivers?

“From personal experience, yes” he says. “I don’t think there is sufficient training and a big problem is the illegal driver’s licenses. The state of our roads also plays a part – potholes. Some of our competitors are now excluding pothole damage from the waivers.”

So far we’ve avoided the elephant in the room, but no current South African car rental conversation is complete without some time devoted to the issue of e-tolling – the government’s attempt to toll the highways in and around Johannesburg.

“We are dealing with it,” says Raubenheimer. “But one of our biggest concerns is when a renter goes through the gantry and drops his rental car at the airport, we have a limited time available to claw back that money – to debit the charges against his credit card within a 24-hour period. The alternative is to open an account for him, which is not something we would ever entertain except for our corporate clients. The leisure inbound and walk-in clients are also a big problem.

“But, we are ready to deal with it. The only problem we’ve had so far is the theft by renters of eight e-tags from the 10 we had installed to test how the whole process will work!”

Like Raubenheimer, corporate travellers are perhaps most interested in how they will be billed.

“There are two options being considered,” says Raubenheimer. “The one option is a live system, where the movements through the gantries are immediately downloaded and we can charge the credit card within 24 hours. The other is a fixed daily charge up to a maximum amount per vehicle. But I don’t think that will work, as I think we’ll see a lot of resistance to it.”

Raubenheimer clearly has enough on his plate to keep him busy, but what of his plans to expand the Hertz brand beyond South Africa’s borders?

“We’re definitely looking at Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia,” he says.

African expansion, e-tolls, vehicle damage and dodgy drivers – looks like Wils Raubenheimer has more than enough to keep him out of trouble.