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.
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.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.