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Calgary's rental car shortage expected to continue through summer 2022

A summer approaches, travellers hoping to rent a vehicle may find it difficult to find an affordable option – not just in Alberta, but right across Canada.

Car rental companies continue to feel the impact of a global shortage of semiconductor chips, compounded by lower inventories from the pandemic.

"In March of 2020, demand essentially fell off a cliff,” explained Craig Hirota, vice president of the Associated Canadian Car Rental Operators. "The industry largely tried to reduce their fleets in order to minimize the expense of maintaining a fleet of vehicles that they’re no longer generating revenue on."

As travel restrictions stated to lift last summer and demand for rental vehicles increased, companies were unable to restock their fleets due to supply chain issues plaguing much of North America.

"The industry is still somewhat under-supplied for what we would consider normal in the spring and summer season,"  Hirota said.

He's concerned that if the tourism industry booms, it's only going to increase the already intense pressure on the rental vehicle market.

Samantha Martin from Toronto based-band Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar has been searching for a rental van for upcoming tours in Alberta and B.C. and says it has been difficult to find a reasonably-priced option.

"I have been looking now for two months for an affordable and available van that would fit a 10-piece band, and so far had varying degrees of success. I’ve been able to find a few things, but they are so astronomically expensive that it’s not financially feasible for the tours, so we’re still looking," Martin said.

Tourists visiting Calgary and southern Alberta during the Stampede may find it hard to snag a rental.

An online search online shows weekend rates amounting to thousands of dollars. 

Lesley Mitchell is travelling from Calgary to Halifax in August and says she was shocked at the sky-high prices for a rental vehicle, with no guarantee on make or size.

"I totally was surprised and took it for granted. It’s usually one of the last things I book," she said. "I’ve never run into a situation where it was never an option even to rent, so completely surprised."

The issue isn’t isolated to Canada specifically and has been a concern for some time.

While planning a trip from Calgary to Hawaii last Christmas, Karen Malcolm-Pye says the price for a rental vehicle was shocking.

"Even to use some of our points for a car rental was so high, and using so many points to get a rental," she says.

Both she and Mitchell looked for other options instead and landed on the car sharing app, Turo, which is similar to Airbnb.

“We’ve seen bookings on Turo in Alberta grow roughly 3,000 per cent, year-over-year so I think that’s a very strong sign that there is a huge demand for alternatives to traditional car rental options,” said Cedric Matthieu with Canadian Turo.

If you are keen on a rental vehicle for your summer holiday, experts suggests planning farther in advance than you’d anticipate.

"Try and book out as early as possible and widen your search to rental operations that might not be right on the airport or might be in the city you’re going to visit," says Hirota.

"There are vehicles out there you just have to put in a little extra work to find them right now because there is a little bit of scarcity for sure."