No more PT Cruisers: Ads in rental cars may give drivers a better ride

How car companies and QR codes are reaching out to the public

<p>A Zipcar is parked at a lot, Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013 in New York. Avis is buying Zipcar for $491.2 million, expanding its offerings from traditional car rentals to car sharing services. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)</p>

Mark Lennihan/AP

Mark Lennihan/AP

For years, automakers and rental-car companies enjoyed a mutually beneficial, if somewhat uninspired, relationship. Car companies needed a place to dump slow-selling models (hence the armada of PT Cruisers), while rental firms sought big discounts on thousands of vehicles.

Now, thanks to the ubiquity of smartphones, both sides have also spotted an opportunity to make lucrative connections with the driving public. General Motors, Mazda and others are increasingly equipping rental cars with scannable “QR” codes that not only point customers to websites offering handy location-based services such as Yelp and GasBuddy, but also information about the make and model of car they’re driving—effectively treating rental cars as a virtual showroom.

Enterprise Holdings, which operates Alamo Rent A Car, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and National Car Rental, already has the codes in more than one million vehicles. The best part? An incentive to stock rental fleets with cars people actually want to drive.