Would you like to bring the vehicle back with a full charge, or pay 20 cents per
kilowatt hour for us to recharge it? You can also pre-pay for your electricity,
and we'll offer you a below grid rate of 10 cents per kilowatt hour.
Sound strange? Well you might be having just such a conversation with a car rental
agent in the near future. Electric vehicles (EV's) are just starting to trickle
into car rental companies now. Make no mistake, they will not be commonplace at
your average rental location for a while, but the majors like Enterprise and Hertz
are taking the first steps to integrate EV's into their fleets.
Enterprise just took delivery of its first Nissan LEAF electric vehicle. This is
a demo vehicle which will be used to educate both employees and customers about
EV's and the infrastructure necessary to support them. This demo vehicle will make
an appearance in the cities where they will eventually become available in 2011.
Enterprise plans to offer about 500 LEAF (Leaves?) initially in Phoenix, Nashville,
San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle. These markets have
the necessary infrastructure to support the charging of EV's.
Enterprise will be offering test drives through an awareness program where customers
will be educated on the environmental and financial benefits of switching on to
electric power. Delivery is slated to begin in December.
Hertz has also announced that it plans to offer the Nissan LEAF at a handful of
locations in the U.S. and Europe, including New York, Washington and San Francisco
this fall, with wider adoption beginning in 2011. Hertz said it also will supply
electrics and plug-in hybrids from other manufacturers, including General Motors,
Toyota and Mitsubishi.
The LEAF (Leading Environmentally friendly, Affordable Family car) is a compact
5-door hatchback that runs exclusively on electricity. According to Nissan, the
LEAF's all-electric range is 100 miles in city driving. It can be fully recharged
from a standard 120-volt household outlet (Level 1 charge) in about 20 hours. Other
options include a 220-volt Level 2 charge in about 8 hours, or a 440-volt Level
3 charge to 80% capacity in about 30 minutes.
Enterprise and Hertz will likely have Level 2 and possibly Level 3 chargers at each
of their locations where EV's are supported. There is also talk about big box stores
like Wal-Mart, Costco and the like installing chargers at their locations as well
in the near future. Longer term, we see Enterprise with the advantage due to their
large number of locations in the US where chargers can be deployed, however with
Level 3 chargers costing north of $15,000, it may be a while before there is widespread
The other EV that's gotten a lot of buzz of late is the Chevy Volt. The Volt is similar
to the LEAF in that it is powered by electricity, but it also has a combustion engine
that can create electricity on-board using a generator. The electric-only range
of the Volt is about 25-50 miles, but with a full tank of 8 gallons of gasoline,
that range increases an additional 300 miles.
In practical terms, the Volt would appear to be more suitable for the average renter
given the ability to refuel by charging or filling up with gas, but as of right
now, none of the rental companies have committed to adding the Volt to their fleet.
This is likely due to the fact that the Volt is currently trailing the LEAF in terms
of production and availability by at least six months.
Another reason is likely due to pricing of the vehicles. The base price of a LEAF
is $32,780, while the Volt checks in at $41,000. Both of these are offset by a $7,500
government tax credit, but that shrinks by automaker after it has sold at least
200,000 vehicles in the U.S. and then it phases out over a year. No wonder the rental
companies are jumping on-board early.
Don't expect rental rates for EV's to be any lower than traditional gas-powered
vehicles. We expect the EV's to be in high demand by early adopters, journalists
and average folks who are just plain curious about the technology. Many of the major
companies have the Toyota Prius in their fleets today, and prices are anywhere from
10%-100% higher than an equivalent non-hybrid vehicle, based on a recent evaluation.
The small number of initially available EV's will surely keep prices in the upper
tier at least initially. Nissan recently announced that it already had 20,000 orders
for the LEAF on the books and has stopped taking new orders until next year. Supply
may not keep up with demand for a while.
While there are certainly questions on how well EV's will work out for rental companies
and their customers in the short term, we believe that EV's are here to stay, and
that in the long term any shortcomings will be ironed out. Rentals of EV's are
a win-win-win scenario.
Manufacturers like Nissan can get their vehicles in front of a much wider audience
via the rental market, while the rental companies stay at the forefront and can
tout their "green" credentials, even if the business model is not yet proven.
Customers can head down to their local Enterprise (in select markets) to try out
an all electric vehicle to see if it may be right for them in the future. Just don't
forget to plan accordingly, since if you plan on driving more than 100 miles in
a day, you need to either carry a really long extension cord or keep that roadside
assistance number handy.