Report by Lydia Wilson

EUROPCAR has begun a three-year restructuring
programme to push its UK business back into the black.

The car rental operator used its balance sheet
conference in Paris last week to announce its intention to achieve positive
turnover in the “difficult” UK market, as well in new markets like China and
Australia, by 2003.

International chief executive officer
Michael Kern said Europcar had been affected by the collapse of the second-hand
car market in the UK, the strength of sterling and high interest rates, but
that improvements had already started to seep through. “The objectives are to
optimise the station network and concentrate on local business in the UK,” he
said.

The launch of telesales and the conversion of the
Europcar call centre in Leeds into an open service centre have already helped
UK sales, said Kern, who aims to have Europcar UK operating at a profit by
mid-2002. UK managing director Paul Fleming added: “We want to get more local,
and that means developing our relationship and commission structure with travel
agents and letting them know that we’re going to be there.” 

New marketing packs are currently being issued to
agents, with offers and more regular mailshots also in the pipeline.

Europcar also declared its intention to become the number
three global car rental operator behind Hertz and Avis within the next few
years by concentrating on its core business, brand and selected customer
loyalty programmes. The Europcar Group made a profit in 2000 of £23.5m on a
turnover of £628m, up 16% on 1999.