Avis was founded in 1946 with three cars at Willow Run Airport, Ypsilanti, Michigan, by Warren Avis. It established branch operations across the United States over the next few years, becoming the second largest car rental company in the country by 1953. By its tenth anniversary in 1956 it had opened its first international offices in Europe, Canada and Mexico.

The Avis corporate motto of "We Try Harder" was adopted in 1962, during CEO Robert Townsend's tenure. The company aimed to put a positive spin on Avis' status as the second largest car rental company in the United States while also taking a shot at larger competitor the Hertz Corporation. The slogan was used for 50 years before a re-branding in 2012, when Avis unveiled a new slogan - "It's Your Space."

In 1972, Avis introduced Wizard, the first computer-based information and reservations system to be used in the United States car rental business; to this day, almost all frequent Avis customers are identified by their unique "Wizard number". In 1981, the company instituted its system of vehicle tracking, that was named Advanced Vehicle Identification System (AVIS).

Avis has been owned by a number of other companies over the years, along with several periods of being a public company. These include:

1956: The Amoskeag Company
1962: Investment group Lazard Freres
1977: Norton Simon
1983: Esmark
1984: Beatrice Foods
1986: Investment firm Wesray Capital Corporation
1987: Majority ownership under an Employee Share Ownership Plan
1989: General Motors (acquires 29% stake)
1996: HFS Corporation
2001: Cendant
2006: Avis Budget Group



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