Silvercar calls quits on airport locations - car rentals move to Audi dealers [Update]

Silvercar, Audi's car rental service, is closing its airport locations, with the service shifting its attention to dealer-based pickup instead. Acquired in full by the automaker in 2017, Silvercar distinguishes itself by only offering Audi vehicles and pushing an app-first experience, in an attempt to differentiate from other airport rental operators.

Originally, that meant a single rate and a single vehicle type, the Audi A4 sedan. While Silvercar's rates weren't necessarily cheaper than those of more familiar names like Hertz and Enterprise, the promise was that you'd always get the vehicle you expected together with perks like inclusive in-vehicle WiFi hotspot service.

Since then, Silvercar expanded its line-up, adding SUVs like the Q5 and Q7 for those needing more space or more seats, and the A5 Cabriolet for drivers hoping for some sun. It also began opening dealership locations beyond its core airport presence. Now, it's that side of the business that Audi will focus on.

From December 6, Silvercar will begin to sunset its airport locations and use dealerships exclusively. In the process, it will tilt its pitch from transportation for those on trips, to people simply looking for a vehicle for local use. Reflecting the rise in social-distancing and the drop in general travel, cars and SUVs will be booked via the Silvercar app and can be collected entirely contact-free, from a secure parking facility at the dealerships.

Alternatively, Silvercar will offer contactless delivery, with the Audi brought to your location. Same-day service is available, the company says, and it will be following CDC guidelines on cleaning the cars in-between loans.

It's perhaps an unsurprising decision for Silvercar and Audi. Though the pitch of a more premium loan experience was always a tempting one, it struggled to compete with established car rental services that were able to offer much cheaper rates. That, combined with the cost of on-airport locations that meant many Silvercar facilities required some sort of transportation to an off-site pickup, and the dwindling amount of air travel during the pandemic, presumably made the current model even less sustainable.

Currently, Silvercar is active at around 20 dealerships in the US, though there are still many states where the service can't be accessed.

All the same, the shift in focus allows Silvercar to expand its offering. While short-term loans are still on the cards, Audi is also pitching the service as a way to bridge leases and fill in the gap between traditional car ownership.

Update: Silvercar's Forrest Bloede, Director of Brand Marketing, gave SlashGear the following statement:

"In September, Silvercar by Audi announced its expansion to Audi dealerships across the U.S. In full commitment to that expansion, all airport locations will close by December 6. Customers with existing airport reservations have been notified and offered the option to cancel or fulfill their reservation at local locations where available, in addition to a $50 voucher for a future local rental.

This shift in strategy from airport rental to local rental represents a larger move by Silvercar to create a network of Audi vehicles on-demand in urban centers, specifically catering to those customers seeking flexible rental options, including daily, weekly or monthly. By the end of 2020, Silvercar by Audi will be available in over 25 dealerships with multiple new locations scheduled to roll out monthly in 2021."