Testing Silvercar: Audi-owned rental car company offers sleek, speedy A4 sedans at Seattle airport

There are 50 Audi A4 sedans sitting in Silvercar’s new airport lot in Seattle. (GeekWire photos/Taylor Soper)

For people who are flying into Seattle and need a rental car, there’s a new option available starting this Monday — especially if they love driving Audis.

Silvercar launches in its 16th market next week at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where the Austin-based startup will open a new lot with 50 Audi A4 sedans available to rent for travelers arriving in the Emerald City.

The company, acquired by Audi earlier this year, charges $ 59 per day for a rental (plus $ 27 for fees and taxes, and up to $ 49 for optional insurance). A concierge picks you up at the airport and takes you to the Jiffy Airport Parking lot at 18836 International Boulevard, where Silvercar’s new Sea-Tac location resides.

After reporting about Silvercar’s expansion to Seattle, GeekWire got a sneak preview of the service earlier this week. If you don’t mind paying a slight premium for a speedy luxury vehicle, Silvercar is an appealing option that challenges traditional rental companies with its smartphone-based platform and sleek 2017 Audi A4s.

“Everything is app-based, from reservations, to pick-up, to drop-off, to receipt,” Silvercar CEO Luke Schneider told GeekWire. “It’s a modern alternative for the modern traveler.”

It is also another new tech-powered transportation option for travelers arriving in Seattle, joining services like BMW ReachNow, car2go, Zipcar, and Uber/Lyft. Consumers now have more options than ever to get to and from the airport.

Read on to see how Silvercar works.

Reserving a vehicle

After creating a Silvercar account, you can reserve a vehicle using the website or mobile app. For the first reservation, you’ll need to upload credit card info, driver’s license number, and personal or work insurance information if you don’t opt for Silvercar’s coverage, which ranges from $ 7 to $ 49, depending on what level of coverage you need.

After setting a location and times for pick-up and drop-off, you can book the reservation.

Arriving at the airport

After landing, you open the Silvercar app and follow the prompts. It will send a text message to the concierge, letting them know you’ve arrived. The app instructs you to head toward the rental car facility shuttle bus pick-up area. After taking the quick trip to the facility, look for an Audi A4 — a concierge will take you Silvercar’s lot.

After arriving at the lot, a Silvercar employee will ask to verify your driver’s license and credit card. This only happens for your first trip — for subsequent reservations, this step isn’t required.

Then you’ll be directed to a vehicle, which has a QR code you scan with the app. Information about the vehicle will show up and it asks to approve a rental agreement.

Driving the car

Audis are fast.

That’s one of my many takeaways after zipping around in the A4. I’d never driven an Audi before, and came away with a big smile after giving it a spin.

There’s quite a bit of technology packed inside, from the WiFi, the satellite radio, bluetooth, GPS, and USB chargers. The navigation controls are fairly easy to grasp, and the steering wheel has all kinds of buttons that let you control volume, answer calls, etc.

Photo via Silvercar.

It’s keyless engine; the seats are heated; the windshield wipers and headlights automatically sense rain and light; there’s a sport mode for those that want semi-manual driving; and a rear-view camera helps with parking. Silvercar also offers car seats and ski racks (but only in Denver) at no extra charge.

I do wish Silvercar — and all car rental companies — provided a dock or some place to mount your phone. This is particularly useful in Washington, which just enacted a new distracted driving law.

Returning the car

This step is simple. You return the car back to the lot; the GPS has the address pre-programmed, which is nice. You can fill up your tank beforehand or pay Silvercar the market per-gallon rate for whatever amount is empty. A concierge will scan your vehicle when you arrive and drive you back to the airport in an A4.

Will Silvercar succeed in Seattle?

If you’ve ever used a traditional rental company, you’ve probably waited in line or maybe you got a type car that you didn’t love.

Silvercar CEO Luke Schneider. Photo via Silvercar.

These are some of the pain points that Silvercar is trying to alleviate.

“Our target market is any traveler that wants and expects better,” Silvercar CEO Luke Schneider told GeekWire. “We’re serving business and leisure travelers. If you don’t like fluorescent lights, long lines, and no guarantees on what you’re going to get once you arrive — you’re our target market.”

So will Silvercar succeed in Seattle?

A quick search on Kayak for a one-day luxury car rental next week at Sea-Tac shows a $ 137 fee at Enterprise and a $ 182 fee at Hertz, both of which are higher than Silvercar’s rates for a comparable vehicle.

Worth noting: For July 31, Kayak lists a 219 percent increase in demand based on search volume analysis — “unusually high in Seattle.” That’s not too surprising, as Seattle’s airport was the ninth-busiest last year across the U.S.

“People are coming and going to Seattle — it’s such a hub of innovation,” noted Courtney Lowell, head of communications at Silvercar. “Being able to service people coming in and out with a rental service that matches everything else in their lives also made sense.”

Brett Lake, general manager of the Jiffy Park lot which now shares space with Silvercar, does not think Silvercar will replace incumbents like Hertz or Avis. But he said they can serve the “high-end customer niche” with a boutique model.

“They are 100-percent customer-focused,” he noted. “If your plane is delayed and they are ready to close, they will wait and make sure you are able to do what you need to do.”

ReachNow’s lot near the Seattle airport. (GeekWire Photo / Todd Bishop)

During my test-drive, I passed by BMW’s ReachNow airport lot, which is just a stone’s throw away from Silvercar. BMW launched its free-floating car-sharing program in Seattle last year and opened up an airport lot soon later.

While their value propositions may differ slightly, ReachNow and Silvercar share quite a few similarities beyond the fact that they are tech-fueled services run by traditional high-end German automakers.

ReachNow’s typical service is used by Seattleites to get around town or get to the airport, but it also offers multi-hour or multi-day rates ($ 80 per day), which puts it in direct competition with Silvercar.

But ReachNow told GeekWire that it welcomes Silvercar into the Seattle market.

“New entrants into the Seattle market strengthen the value proposition for ReachNow and other mobility services,” said Holly Houser, ReachNow’s Seattle market manager.

Silvercar does allow users who live in Seattle — not just those flying in — to rent A4s, and they don’t have to pay the concessions fee. The company doesn’t have immediate plans to open up other lots in Seattle, but that could change as it grows, Lowell said. It runs non-airport lots in New York City and Miami.

Audi tested a car-sharing program in North Carolina last year and hinted at a larger rollout sometime in 2017. It also operates “Audi on demand” in San Francisco.

City of Seattle regulations allow for another free-floating car-sharing program; it would not be a huge surprise to see Audi/Silvercar try to test something here.

Now under Audi’s ownership, Silvercar plans to double its operations over the next 18 months. The company’s goal is to be at the nation’s top 25 airports.

Audi is one of many automakers investing in new car rental services that appease customers who don’t or can’t own a vehicle and would rather pay hourly or daily fees in order to drive around. It’s a result of the larger changes around mobility, largely driven by the popularity of Uber and Lyft.

“The personal transportation industry is in the beginning stages of the most profound, foundational change it has seen in its 120-year history,” Schneider noted. “As consumer models, technology, policy and demographics all conspire to change how we move from point to point, Silvercar will be leading the way, backed by the resources of an industry leader and consumer champion.”

GeekWire

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