What will your next rental car know about you? Everything

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I had a chance to see the car rental of the future yesterday, and it’s a smart set of wheels.

The preview, which was part of the unveiling of Hertz’ upgraded location at San Diego International Airport, was meant to show off the first of several new facilities designed to bring you a “completely new” car rental experience.

The changes are impressive. Hertz is streamlining the rental process to prevent long wait times for rental vehicles with “virtual” kiosks that videoconference you with a representative in an Oklahoma City call center. It released a new app that send you shuttle wait times and is installing recharging stations and printing facilities for business travelers.

“This newly upgraded facility is a glimpse into our — and our car rental’s — future,” Hertz CEO Mark Frissora said. “We’ve combined technology and design to completely rethink what a rental location and experience should be.”

The airport location is a dramatic departure from a traditional rental facility. Gone are the rental counters, the lines and even some of the employees (they’ve been replaced with remote ones, available via video uplink).

Hertz also showed off some of its new “prestige” collection vehicles, including a Ferrari and a Tesla.

But the really interesting part came after the formal presentation and tour, when I had a chance to talk to Frissora about some of his new initiatives.

NeverLost gets clever. Hertz is rolling out a new NeverLost navigation system later this year that will make KITT, that talking car from 1980s TV show Knight Rider, looks like a dummy. Every car will receive of the new consoles, which will let you video conference with a representative if you have questions about your rental or if you need to buy an upgrade. Yes, it still handles directions, but Hertz will charge you for that feature when you activate it.

Your car sees everything. New cars will have upgraded tracking technology that will go beyond following the exact GPS location of each vehicle. It will also allow the company to “see” the inside of each car and to remotely start and stop the vehicle. Hertz assured me it will only use the tech when a car has been stolen or after it’s been returned, not when you’re renting. But still, who knew that was even possible?

They know when you filled the tank, so don’t lie. Thanks to electronic fuel metering, every new vehicle can tell you exactly how much gas is in the tank, and whether it’s completely full. Hertz loses $50 million a year from renters who don’t return their cars on “F” and this would fix it once and for all. It would also eliminate the need to prove you filled up the tank by showing a receipt, which is a pet peeve for renters.

One item that won’t be making an appearance at the car rental location of the future is CRVIS, the system that photographs your car before and after the rental to check for damage. Frissora told me it was too expensive and that consumers didn’t like it. But he promised Hertz was working on new technologies to address the problem of documenting pre-existing damage.

Will these new gadgets be good for consumers? As is so often the case with new technologies, it’s the application of the it that will answer the question. And for that, we will just have to wait.

Who benefits more from this new technology?

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