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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The rental car scramble — and the leap in prices — is a huge consumer headache, but it's paying off for car rental companies.

Why it matters: The pummeled industry is staging a stunning comeback, thanks to pent-up travel demand and increasingly hard-to-find rental cars.

What they're saying: "Put those two things together and it's understandable that prices will be impacted upwards," Avis Budget CFO Brian Choi said Tuesday.

  • Stripping out expenses, Avis Budget — one of the world's largest rental car companies that also owns Zipcar — reported its best first quarter in six years.

Flashback: Rental car companies sold off car inventory when the pandemic hit and travel shriveled.  

  • Now they want to restock to meet demand. But the chip shortage makes that hard. Auto production has been severely hampered, so rental firms can't get all the new cars they want to replenish depleted fleets.
  • The companies are bidding on used cars, "uncharted territory" for players like Hertz and Enterprise, which typically buy new vehicles in bulk, Bloomberg reported.
  • The coming summer travel explosion — paired with low depreciation costs — are “much more than sufficient” to make up for the rental companies' higher car-purchase costs, Morgan Stanley's Adam Jonas told Reuters.

The intrigue: As the car rental market has returned so has investor interest in bankrupt Hertz.

Go deeper

Cars are back to being depreciating assets

Data: Manheim; Chart: Axios Visuals

Used car prices continue to descend from their eye-popping levels.

Why it matters: Protracted supply chain issues caused a shortage of new cars, and in turn used cars, as demand boomed.

Auto loans are getting easier to come by

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

It hasn’t been this easy to get a car loan in years.

Why it matters: It comes amid a demand bonanza that got underway at the onset of the pandemic — when traveling by car became the more appealing mode of transportation.

Perfect storm brewing for extreme politicians

Data: Axios research; Table: Jacque Schrag/Axios

Redistricting and a flood of departing incumbents are paving the way for more extreme candidates in this year's midterm elections.

Driving the news: At least 19 House districts in 12 states are primed to attract such candidates — hard partisans running in strongly partisan districts — according to an Axios analysis of districts as measured by the Cook Political Report's Partisan Voter Index (PVI).