A new start-up has taken the often protracted process of hiring a car back to the drawing board and rolled out a new streamlined take on the service. Virtuo employs a mobile-only approach, with customers registering, making bookings and gaining access to vehicles all via their smartphone.
Repositioning car hire service as something provided solely via a smartphone mimics the business models of companies like Uber and Vallie. Unlike those services, though, Virtuo manages validated user identification and processes that would previously have required form-filling all via its mobile app.
Using the Virtuo app, individuals can register by providing a valid ID document, such as a passport or national identity card, scanning their driving license, inputting credit card details and snapping a facial-recognition selfie. The process is said to take only five minutes. They are then able to book a car, arrange insurance and select other options.
Once a booking has been made, customers use the app to geolocate their car and to receive a digital key. When they approach their vehicle, the virtual key will appear on-screen and the customer can gain access by clicking on an unlock button in the app.
Customers are reminded in advance via SMS and notifications to keep their phone well charged. In the event of a customer's phone running out of battery, it's possible to use the app on another smartphone, or to contact the Virtuo customer service desk from a payphone to have the car unlocked remotely.
There are phone chargers in all the cars, so as to ensure drivers don't lose access to the Virtuo app, via which they can chat with Virtuo staff should they need any questions answered. There are also magnetic badges in the cars to which drivers can transfer their digital key, to avoid having to rely on their smartphone.
The main benefit of Virtuo is that it eliminates time taken queuing, filling out paperwork and collecting keys. This means that customers can minimize the time required to collect a hire car once they've arrived at their destination airport or train station. Users can also provide a damage report with photos via the app before they drive away.
The only model currently offered by Virtuo is a diesel Mercedes A-Class, with automatic transmission. The company's fleet is equipped with GPS, Bluetooth connectivity and a leather interior. Driver assistance features include a reversing camera, a speed limiter, cruise control, Collision Prevention Assist Plus and Parktronic Active Parking Assist.
Prices for hiring through Virtuo start at €49 (US$55) a day, which includes 150 km (93 mi) of daily travel. Customers can increase their daily allowance up to 400 km (249 mi) at a cost of €0.10 ($0.11) per km (0.6 mi). The Virtuo app connects with the customer's car to track mileage and fuel use. It's also possible to add up to three additional drivers for free, as long as they are registered with Virtuo and have a valid account.
Virtuo has been launched at train stations in Paris and is due to be launched soon at airports in Paris and Nice.