Electric Rental Rides
by Yolanda Vazquez
If you often travel by air, and just as often need a rental car, some rental car companies are offering a new vehicle option for travelers; one that will help you avoid topping off the tank before you give it back. In his State of the Union address earlier this year, President Barack Obama renewed his push for clean energy by calling for 1 million electric vehicles on the roads by 2015. Early adopters have embraced these alternative-fuel vehicles, but getting them in the hands of mainstream car buyers has been a bit more challenging. That’s why some major car rental firms like Hertz have begun to expand their fleet to include electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.
JEFF PITZ: We started in New York, D.C., and London. And the main reason for that is we want to be in metropolitan areas.
YOLANDA VAZQUEZ: The added-on vehicles—the Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf, Toyota Prius, Mitsubishi Imiev and Smart EV--are part of Hertz’s global EV initiative. Mid-Atlantic regional vice-president Jeff Pitz says his company is uniquely positioned to offer these cars to their customers.
JEFF PITZ: It is truly a different experience that you can have, but it’s such a great experience. That’s why I think once people do it, they’re hooked.
YOLANDA VAZQUEZ: The vehicles are housed at Union Station in Washington, D.C.--an ideal location for visitors, commuters to the city, local residents- even legislators on Capitol Hill.
Although not quite ready to bid for a congressional seat, I decided to test out Hertz’s new EV fleet to see what it would be like to rent and drive an electric vehicle. Alright so it looks like I need to become a member first before I can rent an EV. To book a car, you must first sign up with their free car sharing program called Connect by Hertz.
What else do they need to know? Once your request has been processed, you’ll receive a letter in the mail along with this membership card.
I signed up for an EV at union station. Once on site, I checked in at the counter to ask where the vehicles were located and headed outside to the parking garage. There they are. They’re right at edge of the traditional rental cars. Very cute, very cute.
A smart EV was the only vehicle available. I checked to make sure it was fully charged and used this activation key to unlock the doors. It took a while for me to find the key. Okay so it’s off on the side. Alright that’s something needs a bit of work. And it was confusing to start. Put this into the ignition and then we turn it on. That’s interesting how do you know it’s on?
After realizing electric cars are silent when they start, I took control of the Smart and hit the roads of D.C. I guess one of the first things you notice is that it does take a while for you to orient yourself to the vehicle. The confined space was unsettling at first, but I was amazed at how quiet the EV sounded. The onboard gauges drew me in. I’m looking at one that has battery power, which we’re charged; we’re fully charged. It says battery 100 percent.
Most of the pure EVs on the market have a vehicle range of 70-100 miles so they’re perfect for hourly rentals. I loved the instant torque, but I wasn’t totally comfortable with the feel of the brakes. There’s a lot of regenerative braking that you’re doing so you kind of feel that when you press on the brakes, it’s a little bit harder and it pulls back. It pops back.
The Neverlost GPS system lists nearby charging stations and Hertz is working with companies to develop a level 3 charging station that will charge an EV in 15 minutes.
JEFF PITZ: It’s just a matter of building the infrastructure for it and we’re working on that. And I think as more and more people come on board. It’s definitely going to happen.
YOLANDA VAZQUEZ: It’s too soon to tell if the President’s goal will be reached in a few short years but car rental companies are getting charged up. EV driving in D.C. it’s never been easier.
JEFF PITZ: It is the future it is coming and we’re excited to be leading it.