Hertz Hurt Its Image With False Theft Complaints

Thom Weidlich 12.08.22


Car-rental giant Hertz has agreed to pay $168 million to settle 364 claims that it falsely accused customers of auto theft when the culprit was its inventory system, which turned out to be a lemon. Nice of the company to own up, but it spent too long blaming its victims.

Hertz, based in Estero, Florida, said in its Dec. 5 press release that the settlement resolves 95 percent of the car-theft claims against it. Some of the victims — a.k.a. customers — were arrested, booted from their jobs and deprived of their drivers’ licenses. Some spent days, weeks or even longer in jail. Often, the customers had paid to extend their rentals or the car was sitting in one of the company’s lots.

Alas, when the story broke last year, with incidents going back even further, Hertz mainly blamed its customers and their lawyers in its public communications.

‘Baseless Claims’

Consider this, from a November 2021 statement: “Unfortunately, in the legal matters being discussed, the attorneys have a track record of making baseless claims that blatantly misrepresent the facts. The vast majority of these cases involve renters who were many weeks or even months overdue returning vehicles and who stopped communicating with us well beyond the scheduled due date.”

One nice thing for Hertz is that it has a new CEO, Stephen Scherr, which gives it a perfect opportunity to blame all this on prior management. In fact, it can blame a prior company, the one that died when Hertz entered bankruptcy protection in May 2020 (it exited in June 2021), although some accusations have trickled out since then.

As The Wall Street Journal put it on Monday: “In April, two months after he was tapped to helm the company, Mr. Scherr reversed years [of] Hertz’s denials by saying some customers had been affected in the past by false theft reports and vowed to rectify the situation for wronged customers.”

‘Customers First’

In Monday’s press release, Scherr said: “As I have said since joining Hertz earlier this year, my intention is to lead a company that puts the customer first. In resolving these claims, we are holding ourselves to that objective.”

Still, it makes you wonder. What went on internally that would cause a company to, at first, so readily absolve itself? It didn’t consider that maybe it had operational snafus? It almost seemed like lashing out. In any event, it’s a good lesson in crisis communications: You may not have all the facts when speaking out, so at least admit that may be the case.

Photo Credit: EQRoy/Shutterstock

Sign up for our free weekly newsletter on crisis communications. Each week we highlight a crisis story in the news or a survey or study with an eye toward the type of best practices and strategies you can put to work each day. Click here to subscribe.