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In an age where green travel and eco-focused marketing continue to grow, car rental companies are bolstering their rental fleets with electric and hybrid cars, giving travellers the opportunity to reduce their carbon footprint, save money at the pump and take one of these new-technology vehicles for a spin before perhaps buying one of their own.

Enterprise Rent-A-Car spokeswoman Lisa Martini said giving travellers “an extended test drive” was one of the company’s main reasons for expanding its eco fleet in the past few years.

“When it comes to the future viability of the passenger vehicle and the ability to meet the public’s mobility needs, consumers in the marketplace are going to determine the success or failure of new technologies,” Martini said.

Today, Enterprise offers roughly 300 electric cars (including the Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt and Toyota Plug-in Prius) and about 3,200 hybrids (which run on both gasoline and electric power) throughout the United States, including California, Hawaii, Seattle, New York and Washington DC.

 “We’re in a time of tremendous change and technological advance in the car market,” said Therese Langer, transportation program director for the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. “And in many cases the new vehicles that are coming out are ones that people find intriguing, but they’re not ready to make the plunge and buy them.”

Price is often the biggest road block to purchasing – and sometimes even renting – an electric car. Buying one can cost nearly $20,000 more than a regular gas-powered car, and renting one can cost roughly $60 to $75 more per day. The other obstacle is infrastructure.

Electric cars are limited to cities or regions where adequate charging options exist, such as Austin, Texas, or Los Angeles. Electric cars can also only go 70 to 100 miles on a single charge before the driver has to plug-in and power up again. Lemore Hecht, a spokeswoman for Hertz, said the company started offering electric cars in 2010 for its cars-by-the-hour rental business, available in New York, Paris, Berlin, London, Washington DC, California and some US university sites.

To make electric cars more feasible for consumers, Enterprise has partnered with electric charging station companies in Texas and California to provide free charging for those renting. At Hertz’s headquarters in Park Ridge, New Jersey, the company is piloting a program with Plugless Power, a company that is testing new wireless charging technology where cars pull up over a charging mat with no plug-in required.

Langer said that as the infrastructure for electric cars grows – that is, when there are more charging stations to power up the cars – there will also likely be more electric cars available to rent.

One start-up in Slovenia is aiming to make electric car travel easier by both increasing the country’s charging infrastructure and helping travellers match their trip with station locations. Egozero, which launches this month, is building charging stations in areas where tourists stop for at least an hour, such as restaurants, golf courses and wine cellars. Those looking to travel in Slovenia can book an electric car through the website, map out a travelling route and get information on where the car should be powered up along the way. The itinerary will then be plugged into the car’s navigation system.

Lori Robertson writes the ethical traveller column for BBC Travel. You can send ethical dilemmas to bbcethicaltravel@gmail.com. 

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