How Car Rentals Explain the 2021 Economy

Prices have fallen recently but not to previous levels. The industry reflects the American economy’s long, strange trip.

By Quoctrung Bui and Neil Irwin

Few markets better crystallize the topsy-turvy nature of the American economy during the pandemic than the rental car business.

The industry shows how economic decisions made in 2020 keep having serious implications in 2021. While most other industries have experienced less severe swings, the same basic dynamics apply. These dynamics explain why inflation and product shortages spiked earlier in the year — and why they are starting to abate but are not yet close to prepandemic norms.

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