Blog Archive

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Goodbye Jane B, Car Hire Hell

Goodbye and Adieu Jane B

The iconic Franco-British singer and actress Jane Birkin died last month at the age of 76. 

Jane Birkin in 1960 at the start of her career

Her big break following some small acting roles was when she met the iconic and talented Poet, and Singer Songwriter, Serge Gainsbourg, in Paris. He wrote songs for her, she became his muse and his partner for over a decade. 

Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin 1969

They were catapulted to the world's attention on the release of 'Je t'aime, moi non plus' in 1969 which received worldwide publicity when it was banned by the Vatican, the BBC and many other organisations.

They went on to create many more hits written by Gainsbourg. Following their breakup due to his alcoholism, she continued to sing and act well into her seventies and he continued to write for her until his death in 1991.

Jane Birkin and her daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg in 2021

Jane Birkin was a French icon, the IT girl of her time, creating fashions, sensations and newspaper headlines wherever she went. The French media could not get enough of her. In 2001, she was awarded an OBE "for services to acting and UK-French cultural relations"

RIP Jane Birkin.

Car Hire Hell with Virtuo in Toulouse

I have previously praised the Car Rental Company Virtuo for their modern high tech-based approach which cuts out layers of cost and in theory provides a better user experience. You can read my October 2021 blog "Car Hire: Serving Steak Tartare to Vegetarians" for more about how great I thought they were initially. They are the potential Disrupter of the Car Rental Industry. However, I have always said that their software is unreliable and unfortunately it let me down big time last month resulting in the worst car hire experience I have had in 30 years of renting cars. Worse even than Goldcar, Europcar and Avis!

I understand that things sometimes go wrong; that's precisely when you can see whether the company you are dealing with is a great company or a terrible one. Unfortunately Virtuo most definitely falls into the latter category.

What makes them unique is that they don't have staff and offices other than their central call centres. They cut out layers of costs. You pick up the car you have booked from a car park and you use their app to open and lock the car. It's a brilliant idea. Well it would be if it worked properly.

I picked up their BMW X1 with 850 km on the clock having paid €1400 and all appeared to be fine apart from the fact that it is almost impossible to submit a damage report at 1am in the dark. Anyway, small point. After a day or so using this stunningly modern car (congrats to BMW), I noticed that the lock/unlock system seemed to have a mind of its own; sometimes it unlocked itself, other times I had trouble unlocking it. I reported this using their in-app chat and they politely said they would report it to their tech team (standard response).  

The problems really ramped up a few days later when I was unable to unlock the car. Basically £40,000 of brand new high tech machinery sitting in front of me that was unusable. They went through all of their usual routine (re-install the app, login again, what colour is it flashing, do a somersault, brush your teeth, go to the toilet, try again, repeat, etc.) None of which made a blind bit of difference. The car was not going to open.

They then had BMW assistance call me who very politely declined to help as they don't support Virtuo's software.  Understandable.

Repeat of above. They had BMW assistance call me a 2nd time.

Then after I complained again, they had their insurance company AXA call me to provide assistance. Assistance was in the form of an independent breakdown contractor who would be with me within the hour. Except he wasn't. So I had to call back AXA and they said they would send another one who would be with me within the hour (another hour, not the same hour). He arrived and using the same tools as a criminal stealing a car, was able to open the car within a couple of minutes. At that point the Virtuo software decided to wake up and play. Christophe, the mechanic, told me he had done an identical job on another Virtuo BMW X1 the previous week.

Unfortunately it doesn't stop here. It gets worse.

Two days later, the Virtuo software decided to go on strike again. I wasn't very happy with Virtuo by this point, so instead of going round the houses again (their Contact Centre software takes the agent through step by step and as I had repeated my story at least 100 times by now patience was wearing thin) I just demanded that they send Christophe back and then that they replace the car as soon as I could drive it back to Toulouse. One hour later a different mechanic turned up and I had to instruct him what to do. It took him about 30 minutes following my instructions. Shortly afterwards I was able to drive the car to Toulouse for them to swap it. Or so I thought!

Unfortunately it doesn't stop here. It gets worse.

Virtuo's utter ineptitude made my 140km round trip to Toulouse to swap the car redundant. They instructed me to go to the Ibis Hotel just off the Maurice Bellonte (he was a French aviator who set flight distance records) roundabout to swap it for the replacement car that was parked there. Except it wasn't. They insisted that it was, but after I had walked round the car park at least 25 times in a period of 3 hours, I was absolutely certain it wasn't. But they told me it was. So I drove to another nearby Ibis to see if it was there. No it wasn't. And then I went to ask the receptionist at the Ibis where the Virtuo cars were parked and she told me they were precisely where I had been looking. And then they weren't sure if it was a BMW or a Mercedes I was getting. After 3 hours of waiting at the Ibis, they told me it wasn't actually there at all.

Hotel Ibis at Maurice Bellonte Roundabout

It gets worse.

They sent me via the in-app chat another address: Place de la Revolution. I wasn't sure if this was a joke as I was very much in the mood for a revolution and it's just as well there were no guillotine's to hand.  So I drove to Place de la Revolution and guess what? It's a very large roundabout in a square surrounded by large buildings. Offices, hotels, etc. Each has its own car park but there is no parking in the square itself. There was no way I was going to start hunting around in all of those car parks.  Fed up, I left Toulouse and drove back to where I started out from about 5 hours earlier.

Place de la Revolution

When I got back, I messaged them and instructed them to deliver a replacement vehicle to where I was staying. A Mercedes GLA 2020 turned up the following day. They offered me a €40 credit off my next rental to apologise.  They then proceeded to charge my credit card €32.76 for 14 litres of fuel that their software said I used. That too was incorrect and I asked for a refund which they agreed to 24 hours later. Another software error?

Data from my rental - what it took to get it sorted:

Chat messages: 236 sent and received
Phone calls: 10 with Virtuo, 2 with Axa, 2 with BMW Assistance, 5 with different Roadside Assistance contractors

My time wasted (estimate) between July 3rd and 5th: 10 hours

Value of my wasted time according to Virtuo: €4 per hour credit

Surely the most incompetent car rental company on the planet?

Needless to say I complained, and without further discussion they sent me a refund for €136 representing 2 days' rental. Frankly, that's an insult!

My Quote for the Month

"Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent effort."
John Ruskin

No comments:

Post a Comment