Photos show rows of thousands of rental cars parked in a Hawaiian sugar cane field after the coronavirus pandemic halted tourism

A sugar cane field turned parking lot for unused rental cars.

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A sugar cane field turned parking lot for unused rental cars.
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Matthew Thayer/Maui News
  • Rental car companies are being forced to find new homes for their vehicles as travel demand dries up from the spread of COVID-19.
  • On Maui, Hawaii former sugar cane fields had been converted to parking lots to house over 18,000 cars.
  • Car rental agencies across the country have been forced to send vehicles to temporary homes due to a lack of renters.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

With travel at a near-standstill as the US prepares for a surge in COVID-19 cases, companies will large fleets of now-unused vehicles are finding locations to store them until travelers feel safe enough to explore the world once again.

The past few weeks have seen unforeseen measures including airlines taking over airports for use as storage facilities for thousands of aircraft.

The rental car industry has also taken a hit as a lack of flyers means fewer renters whether it be tourists, business travelers, or even flight crews. At some rental facilities, including on the island of Maui in Hawaii, thousands of cars are sitting idle in desolate fields awaiting when travel returns to normal.

A reporter with the local newspaper Maui News Matthew Thayer, a photojournalist and author, witnessed thousands of stored cars lined up like dominoes with their bumpers mere inches apart during a helicopter flight over the island. Most of them belong to the rental car agencies that utilize Kahului Airport, one of Hawaii’s busiest airports with nonstop flights to US mainland destinations as far as Chicago and Dallas.

Take a closer look at just how devastating COVID-19 has been to the rental car industry in the US.


This is the scene in Maui where rental car companies have been forced to store cars in grass fields due to a stark reduction in demand.

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Matthew Thayer/Maui News

Source: Maui News


What used to be fields for growing sugar cane, a formerly valuable Hawaiian export, is now a temporary resting home for around 18,000 inactive automobiles.

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A sugar cane field turned parking lot for unused rental cars.
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Matthew Thayer/Maui News

Source: Maui News


Vehicles once used by tourists to explore the tropical island are left without a purpose, especially with links to the mainland slowly disappearing and visitor numbers drying up.

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A sugar cane field turned parking lot for unused rental cars.
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Matthew Thayer/Maui News

Source: Maui News


“There’s no certainty when we move on from this,” Kahului Airport district manager Marvin Moniz said in an interview with Maui News. “We’re kind of winding down now. By April 10, there may only be one or two mainland flights, maybe none.”

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A sugar cane field turned parking lot for unused rental cars.
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Matthew Thayer/Maui News

Source: Maui News


According to Moniz, who manages the rental car facilities at the airport, there are only around 2,500 cars were being rented out of an inventory of over 20,000.

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A sugar cane field turned parking lot for unused rental cars.
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Matthew Thayer/Maui News

Source: Maui News


Cars parked in the since-abandoned sugar cane field are parked with the same elegance of a valet lot at a crowded party, bumper to bumper and row after row.

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A sugar cane field turned parking lot for unused rental cars.
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Matthew Thayer/Maui News

Source: Maui News


Thayer estimates that if formed in a single line, the idled cars sitting in the field could span around 60 miles, almost enough to get from one end of Maui to the other with no gaps.

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A sugar cane field turned parking lot for unused rental cars.
source
Matthew Thayer/Maui News

Source: Maui News


It’s not just in Hawaii that the rental car business is hurting. The American Car Rental Association stated in a letter to US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that the pandemic is “wreaking havoc on the American car rental industry,” when requesting inclusion in the stimulus package.

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A sugar cane field turned parking lot for unused rental cars.
source
Matthew Thayer/Maui News

Source: Maui News


Fields like this are now a common sight across the country with rental agencies hunkering down and preparing for what can be a long summer with few tourists if the US doesn’t flatten the curve.

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A sugar cane field turned parking lot for unused rental cars.
source
Matthew Thayer/Maui News

Source: Maui News


Even in major cities, rental car companies are scooping up all available space including the parking lot at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

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The Dodgers Stadium parking lot in LA filled with unused rental cars.

Source: The Eastsider


While the parking lot in the shadow of Downtown Los Angeles is used to being full, the vehicles’ owners are typically excited Dodgers fans and not rental car companies.

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The Dodgers Stadium parking lot in LA filled with unused rental cars.

With the MLB season on hold, for now, the Dodgers won’t be needing the space any time soon.

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The Dodgers Stadium parking lot in LA filled with unused rental cars.

At each one, however, remains the lingering chance for trouble in the form of a fire, as seen on Friday when a field for overflow rental cars was the site of a fire that damaged over 3,000 cars.

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A sugar cane field turned parking lot for unused rental cars.

Source: Fort Myers News-Press


In a Floridian field with more than half the number of cars as the one on Maui, officials told the Fort Myers News-Press that “3,516 cars were damaged or destroyed,” and over 10 fire departments and two helicopters attempted to stop the blaze.

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A sugar cane field turned parking lot for unused rental cars.

Source: Fort Myers News-Press


What’s clear from these photos, however, is that no aspect of the travel industry has been spared as the novel coronavirus indiscriminately has touched nearly every business without regard or concern.

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A sugar cane field turned parking lot for unused rental cars.
source
Matthew Thayer/Maui News

Matthew Thayer is a staff photojournalist for The Maui News and also a novelist. His work includes the five-book 30,000 B.C. Chronicles series and novel Nikki Tiger. All are available on Amazon Kindle.