Last summer, it was the Detroit Three that were restraining themselves from dumping cars into the gaping maw of fleet sales just to boost the bottom line. Turns out they had some help with that discipline: Due to last year's events, rental car fleets shrunk by 400,000 units from 2007 to 2008. As we begin 2009, rental car companies have declared they will be trimming their fleet orders and curbing the number of vehicles they keep on hand even further.

Rental car companies have been thrown under a number of buses as of late. They can't borrow money to finance purchases; the recession has hammered the travel industry; wholesale used vehicle prices are falling (making rental car fleets less valuable); and besides that, car dealers can't get the money to buy the retired rental cars anyway, which subtracts yet another revenue stream.

Rental companies have been good for something like 15% of sales from General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler. But not this year: Enterprise, which also buys for National and Alamo, will buy half the number of cars it did last year, and they'll keep those cars a couple of months longer. Hertz, Dollar, and Thrifty also said they will buy fewer cars and work them longer. The automakers have doubled incentives to encourage sales, but there are simply no teeth left in the rental business with which to bite.

Thus, don't be surprised to find a few more stains on the seats and a few more miles on the clock the next time you find yourself at the wheel of a rental car.

[Source: Automotive News, Sub Req.]