Rent Alert: Industry Embraces Electric Vehicles

Car rental companies further corporate environmental initiatives by adding EVs to fleets.

Electric vehicles (EVs) splashed onto the automotive scene in 2010 and some car rental companies quickly embraced them as part of larger corporate environmental initiatives. Last year, the Hertz Corporation and Enterprise Holdings announced plans to add EVs to their respective fleets in the United States and started introducing plug-in vehicles to rental and car-sharing customers.

Both Hertz and Enterprise have partnered with Nissan and are incorporating the automaker's all-electric LEAF into their fleets. Nissan says the four-door, five-passenger vehicle can achieve 100 miles when fully charged. Enterprise started adding 500 Nissan LEAFs to its fleet in December. Enterprise said the LEAFs would initially be available in seven markets - Phoenix, Nashville, Tenn., San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Ore., and Seattle - where the infrastructure exists to support the vehicles. Hertz says it will roll-out the LEAF at select rental sites in the United States and Europe by early 2011.

Hertz and Enterprise have also partnered with CODA Automotive, a privately-held company based in Santa Monica, Calif., which manufactures the all-electric CODA Sedan. The automaker claims the vehicle achieves a range of 90 to 120 miles per charge. Hertz says it will add the four-door, five-passenger all-electric CODA Sedan to its California locations this year. Enterprise also said it plans to add up to 100 CODA Sedan EVs to its fleet this year.

In addition, Hertz has partnered with smart USA, a subsidiary of Penske Automotive. Hertz began renting smart fortwo electric drives to car-sharing customers in New York City through Connect by Hertz. The car rental company will bring additional smart vehicles to other Connect by Hertz and Hertz Rent A Car locations in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. 

This recent fleet expansion is a crucial part of the Hertz Global EV program, which was launched last September, and aims to provide a variety of all-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles to car sharing and rental customers worldwide. In addition to the CODA, Nissan and smart electric cars, Hertz says it also plans to offer the Mitsubishi i-MiEV and the Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid. The car rental company is currently taking reservations for electric vehicles at its exclusive website, www.hertzev.com.

Meanwhile, Enterprise announced Nov. 11 that Chairman and CEO Andrew C. Taylor joined the Electrification Coalition, a nonpartisan, non-profit group that promotes policies and actions that facilitate the deployment of electric vehicles on a mass scale. Other members of the coalition include executives from companies including Cisco Systems Inc., Eaton Corp., PG&E Corp., Nissan, Johnson Controls, FedEx Corp., and Siemens Corp.

Outside of the U.S., Avis Europe announced last February that it planned to make Renault electric vehicles available for rent starting this year. Avis did not specify which EVs would be available, although Renault planned to introduce four electric vehicles between late 2010 and 2012.

With major car rental companies jumping aboard the EV bandwagon, independent and franchised car rental operators are beginning to examine if EVs will work for their businesses. They are analyzing the infrastructure needed to sustain EVs and figuring out how to rent EVs to customers who are comfortable and familiar with gas-powered cars.

The electrification of the auto industry is part of the larger issue of corporate sustainability.

At the 2011 Car Rental Show, Lee Broughton, director of corporate sustainability for Enterprise, will discuss why the industry must be proactive in seeking economic, social and environmental sustainability, or likely be mandated to do so, which will be more painful and costly than if the industry takes responsibility on its own.

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