Last week, Automotive News published an interesting piece analyzing changes in the rental market over the past few years. The article concluded that as domestic automakers General Motors and Ford Motor Company have lowered sales to rental fleets, Asian brands led by Hyundai and Kia from South Korea have stepped in to fill the gap with increased fleet deliveries of their own. A deeper dive, however, reveals that although the Koreans’ current rental penetration is higher than it was a few years ago, it is fairly modest by Korean standards over the past decade.

Filtering fuel type for gasoline-powered models only, as well as excluding pickups and large vans, which the Koreans don’t offer,  we have a better idea of how Hyundai/Kia compare to Chrysler/Dodge, Ford and Chevrolet with regards to rental penetration. Over the past 10 years, Hyundai/Kia and Ford both have exhibited the lowest rental pen (September year-to-date) in the group at just 17% on average. In 2015, Ford has 15% rental penetration and Hyundai/Kia is at just under 19%, which are well below Chevrolet and Chrysler/Dodge at 24% and 25%, respectively. Thus, not only is the Koreans’ current rental business par for the course historically, but it is also squarely between that of Ford, Chevrolet and Chrysler/Dodge today.


Back in 2012, Hyundai was making huge strides in the United States and had many newly designed models across its product lineup that were very well-received by consumers. As a result of the company’s particularly high retail demand at the time, Hyundai and Kia’s combined rental penetration was reduced to a mere 8.8% of total sales, which was well-below the typical rental pen rate for the automaker. The Automotive News analysis, however, focused on the change in the rental market since 2012. This made the return of the Koreans’ rental business back to its normal levels appear more like an attempt to capture potentially lower-margin rental sales opportunities being left behind by domestics. What really was going on though, was Hyundai and Kia were performing at such an unusually high level over the course of a few years that normalcy today can be confused with a sudden reliance of dumping cars into rental fleets to boost sales results.

It is true that while total sales have remained relatively flat since 2012, rental penetration rates for the Koreans have climbed by roughly 10%. However, it must be noted that the automaker’s current fleet volume is not excessively high for the industry by any means. The reality is that Hyundai and Kia’s combined single digit rental penetration rate was unsustainable and was the consequence of an extremely success sales period for the company. Amidst rising competition in the marketplace, the automaker has simply seen a regression to the mean in terms of its rental penetration, which isn’t necessarily a signal that a red flag has gone up regarding the Koreans’ business strategy.

The last time the Korean automakers exhibited a rental penetration level as high as it is today was in 2010 when the company’s rental sales represented exactly 19% of total sales. What’s different between then and now is that even with one sales month remaining in 2015, yearly sales are up 42% versus 2010. Thus, when looked at Hyundai and Kia’s performance from that perspective, the company has done very well for itself over the last handful of years.

Ultimately, the Koreans’ rental sales growth should not be seen as necessarily a bad thing as long as it doesn’t spiral out of control over the coming years. To truly understand the effect of rental penetration on the company’s bottom line, a dive into the automaker’s financials to examine profit margins would be required. It’s easy to view business with rental fleets unfavorably when the sales channel is abused is utilized as a means of offloading a mass of excess production and inventory. What’s harder to determine is the positive impact of increased exposure received by Hyundai and Kia in terms of getting new drivers to experience their vehicles when renting a car who might otherwise not consider a Korean nameplate. In that sense, one could view a presence in rental fleets as a marketing tool to engage with buyers who have yet to visit a Hyundai or Kia showroom.

By taking a deeper dive into how rental penetration and sales have changed over the past decade, we gain added perspective regarding how Hyundai and Kia have performed in comparison with domestic automakers in the rental marketplace. It is important to be mindful that everything is relative and the points in which you compare figures can drastically affect how results are interpreted. There are challenges aplenty for Korean automakers on the road ahead in their quest to increase market share, but the current situation is not nearly as bumpy as it may seem.