The history of Thrifty

Thrifty Car Hire - City - Hero
Thrifty Car Hire - City - Mob

Discover the rich history of our group businesses that makes NRMA who we are today.

Today, car hire company, Thrifty, is the only 100 percent Australian owned and operated international car rental brand in the world, but it didn’t start out this way.

Founded in 1958 in Tulsa, Oklahoma by L.G. Crow, the first Thrifty offices could be located in the dining room of an abandoned café opposite Tulsa Airport. Here, Crow would rent out VW Beetles, Ramblers, Falcons and Comets to the likes of American Airlines employees visiting Tulsa for their training courses – not surprisingly the majority of the rental company's first clients due to its location. 

Early expansion

In 1962, Crow sold Thrifty to his friend, Wilbur Fisk Stemmons, a used car salesman and former Avis executive who bought the fleet and the Thrifty name for a princely sum of $1,000. Stemmons would pursue his dream of creating the Thrifty franchise nationally, and by the end of 1962, Thrifty had opened six more offices in Dallas, Denver, Houston, Oklahoma City, St Louis and Wichita.

Despite this growth, not one of the office locations was inside an airport. Stemmons recognised ease and convenience as key needs for prospective customers seeking car hire, and so Thrifty customers were offered a door-to-door service, soon followed by the launch of a hotline to answer calls from licensees, travel agents and corporate card holders in 1969. 

Going global

Thrifty was introduced to the Australian market in 1977, taking over The Universal Rental Car Company. It was also during this time Thrifty established a franchise network, and by the 1980s, Thrifty had expanded dramatically across the globe to include Australia, Europe, Canada, Mexico, Scotland, Guatemala, Greece, Netherland Antilles and Israel. Thrifty Australia was then acquired by the Budget Rental Group in 1984.

In 1990, Budget Rental Group sold Thrifty Australia to a consortium of Mitsubishi Motors Australia Limited and Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group (DTAG), who took over and began trading as Kingmill Pty Ltd. Thrifty locations were then divided up into corporate owned locations or operated by Franchisees. 

Australian-owned and operated

It wasn't until 2006, NRMA acquired 75 percent of Kingmill Pty Ltd with the remaining 25 percent held by Kingmill Pty Ltd's management. The following year, NRMA acquired Motoka Rentals Limited and commenced operation out of New Zealand, trading as Thrifty New Zealand. Two years later, NRMA acquired the remaining 25 percent interest in Kingmill Pty Ltd, taking 100 percent ownership of the Thrifty Australia New Zealand brand.

In 2012, Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group (DTAG) merged with Hertz Global Holdings, operating its car rental business through the Hertz, Dollar and Thrifty brands from approximately 10,460 corporate, licensee and franchisee locations worldwide, making it the largest rental company provider in the world.

Fast forward to today, Thrifty Australia and Thrifty New Zealand operate under an International Master License Agreement with Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group (later purchased by The Hertz Corporation). making Thrifty one of Australia’s largest and most dynamic vehicle rental companies in the world. The brand is represented in every state, territory, capital city, major city, regional centre and commercial airport, services over 240 locations across Australia and New Zealand, and also provides many handy service centres in country and remote areas.

Fast facts
  • Thrifty operate one of the largest fleets available in Australia - over 17,000 vehicles
  • There are more than 1,000 Thrifty locations across 80 countries worldwide
  • Thrifty revolutionised the rental car industry by becoming the first to offer its services online in 1996
  • Thrifty is the exclusive car rental partner to all of Australia's leading Automotive Clubs