Warren Avis

Car-hire innovator


Warren Edward Avis, businessman: born Bay City, Michigan 4 August 1915; twice married (two sons, one daughter); died Ann Arbor, Michigan 24 April 2007.

To travellers everywhere, Avis is familiar as one of the world's biggest names in car rental, an airport fixture as humdrum - albeit handy - as Burger King or Sunglass Hut. Yet few now will know what an innovator Warren Avis was.

He founded his company in December 1946 as Avis Airlines Rent-A-Car Systems. His frequent exasperation at the long wait for a taxi at airports gave him the then-novel idea for a car-hire company that was based at terminals, rather than in city centres. His first was at the Willow Run airport in Ypsilanti, Detroit, with a fleet of three cars; the second was in Miami, Florida.

Customers found it disconcerting at first, as Avis's staff escorted them to the car parked conveniently outside the terminal entrance. But they soon got used to it. "I didn't think it was anything other than giving the customer an option I never had as a traveller", Avis said.

He borrowed $75,000 to start the business, adding an extra $10,000 of his own capital. His part-ownership of a Ford dealership spurred him always to have the latest models for hire. "Nobody thought it would work", Avis said. But the business was a runaway success.

His working life had begun in the 1930s, as a Michigan state department investigator, and then as a travelling pills salesman. Second World War military service in the US Air Force saw him reach major rank. But his métier rapidly became consumer-focused business innovation. He added corporate credit accounts and, in 1948, ditched the "Airline" part of his business title as he opened branches near large city-centre hotels. He also franchised Avis across the US, expanding into Canada, Mexico and Europe.

In 1954 Warren Avis found an eager buyer for his business in Richard Robie of U-Drivit Corporation. He was paid an amazing $8m. It was the first of a dozen changes of ownership during which Avis grew to rival the US market leader, Hertz. Warren himself was long gone when the company launched its marketing warcry "We're only No 2. We try harder" in 1963, but it was commensurate with the founder's commercial zeal. Today, the Avis car-hire insignia can be found at 4,000 locations worldwide.

Once described in The New York Times as "chronically antsy", Avis bought a 300-acre farm in Michigan, plus homes in New York and Acapulco, and enjoyed a playboy lifestyle.

But he also went on a buying spree of businesses - anything that took his fancy, from factories to hotels, sports goods wholesalers to banks. If he found a venture "boring" then he sold it. A mission to buy back Avis Rent-A-Car from the American private-equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts foundered, but Warren Avis was undaunted - he simply bought Teleflorist instead.

Giles Chapman

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
tv
Voices
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Sport
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn