Globally, the history of Avis is steeped in a tradition of innovation and compelling ideas, all introduced to cater for specific customer needs.
The first attempt to link car rental with airline travel was undertaken by Warren E Avis, a Ford dealer from Detroit who opened America's first car rental counter at Willow Run Airport in December 1946. It was called Avis Airline Rent a Car System. In 1948, the word airline was removed and offices opened in downtown locations.
In 1954 Avis sold his interest to Mr Robie of U-Drivit Corporation in Boston. The U-Drivit Corporation was incorporated into the Avis operation and corporate locations were opened throughout the country.
Around this time one-way rentals began to be established into the American way of life and the first attempts to introduce charge card distribution were initiated.
In 1956 Robie sold U-Drivit to Hertz and Avis Rent a Car System to other investors. It was now that Avis introduced the first central billing charge card system and a new era in corporate car rentals began with faster car rental systems.
1962 Avis' powerful brand promise of "We Try Harder" has become one of the longest surviving promises in marketing history.
In 1964 the annual turnover was approximately $25million with a fleet of 7 500 vehicles. The notoriously offbeat Robert E Townsend was appointed the president of the company. In addition, Avis began operating specialised reservations offices around the world and the company head office moved to New York.
In 1965 expansion was the policy and Colin Marshall headed up a new management team recruited in Europe to start Avis Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
Throughout this period of rapid growth, emphasis was placed on developing a strong, young and driven team to push the company further than expected. Avis was the first car rental company to renew vehicles after six months, the first to have a one-way fleet of vehicles assigned solely to inter-city rentals, and the first to introduce a computer corporate billing system (1972-1973 saw the phased installation of the first real time computerised reservations and rental system).
Today Avis is the most successful car rental company in Europe, Africa and the Middle East with more passion, more locations, more fleets and more customers than any other car rental company in the world.
In South Africa
In 1967 Zeda Car Rental and Tours (Pty) Ltd was established in Bloemfontein. Shortly thereafter, Federale Volksbeleggings Bpk, a division of Sanlam, acquired a majority shareholding in the company. Shortly thereafter, Federale went into a joint venture with Avis Rent A Car Systems Incorporated.
Following the adoption of the Avis name, the business expanded steadily and by 1972, the car rental business had expanded to Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town. During this period, Glenn van Heerden joined the company.
By 1972 the company was represented country-wide and in 1980 it diversified into full maintenance leasing. To accommodate this diversification, Zeda Car Rental & Tours (PTY) Ltd changed its name to Zeda Car Leasing (PTY) Ltd.
By the mid-1980s, the company has grown into the largest licensee outside the USA and was registered as Zeda Holdings (Pty) Ltd. The business began to expand beyond the borders into Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland and administered sub-licensees in Angola, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
In 1991 Zeda Holdings entered into an agreement with the international company which allowed them access to the Wizard real time, on-line computer system which services Avis operations around the world.
The Federale name changed several times and in 1992 the name Fedservices changed to Servgro International Limited. Servgro listed on the Johannesburg stock exchange in August 1992, with Servgro holding 85% of the shares and Avis senior management holding 15% of the shares.
In 1993 Avis was awarded the SABS ISO 9002 quality management system.
In April 1997, Servgro unbundled and Avis Southern Africa was listed on the Johannesburg, Namibian and Botswana Stock Exchanges.
In 1998 Avis Luxury cars was introduced, offering customers luxurious self-drive spoils and in 2001 Avis Chauffeur Drive was introduced. This is also the year Avis entered the commercial vehicle market through the Avis Van Rental agreement, all operated as sub - licensees. Starting in Cape Town with only 15 vehicles, this has grown to 2200 vehicles to date.
In 2002, Grenville Wilson introduced the Avis Brand Ambassador way of life to Avis, a programme aimed at engendering a culture of “choose to” people within Avis. In the same year Avis introduced its Point 2 Point service.
In March 2005 Barloworld Limited acquired the full ownership of Avis Southern Africa, hence the delisting from the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and Avis is now proudly a division of Barloworld South Africa (PTY) Ltd.
2008 saw the introduction of Avis Coach Charter Service and between 2007 and 2009 Avis spent in the region of R250-million on upgrading its turnaround facilities and selected rental branches around the country.
In 2009 Avis became the first car rental company to become carbon neutral.