Sustainable America Blog

Rental Cars Are Going Greener

In addition to being eco-friendly and saving money on fuel on vacations and business trips, renting an alternative-fuel vehicle is a great way to test one out before making a purchase. Most rental car companies are now catering to eco- and cost-conscious drivers by offering a variety of hybrid and electric cars for both long-term rentals and shorter, by-the-hour use. For some consumers, a rental my be their first experience with this new technology.

A little over a year ago, we took a look at Enterprise’s electric vehicle car rental program. When Enterprise Holdings (comprised of Enterprise, Alamo and National rent-a-car) tried to introduce all-electric Nissan Leafs into their offerings, they found that customers were afraid that the car would run out of electric juice before reaching a charging station. So they decided that, with over 8,200 locations worldwide and 90% of the U.S. population living within 15 miles of a branch, they were in a unique position to help consumers get more comfortable with this new technology. Enterprise put the cars in just 50 locations in 20 markets where the “urban eco-curious” early adopters are more prevalent. And they rolled out a campaign aimed partly at customers who may want to rent a car for a few hours rather than a weekend getaway.

Let’s fast forward to today: What kind of progress has been made? According to a recent press release, Enterprise offers the industry’s largest selection of hybrid and electric vehicles, including the Nissan Leaf, Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, and Chevy Volt extended-range electric vehicle at 50 rental and car-sharing locations throughout the U.S., though not exclusive to these locations. Although fleets are added and removed frequently in certain cities, currently Enterprise offers all-electric vehicles in 28 cities, 14 of which are located in California and three in Hawaii. Other EV-rental locations include Austin, Baltimore, Portland (OR), Seattle, Phoenix, Atlanta, Orlando, Tampa, and New York City. Recently announced, Enterprise has added five electric vehicles and a charging station to their Northampton, MA rental location.

Taking a look at Hertz, last October the company claimed that if factories could produce them, it would add 2,000 EVs to its small fleet of 50. Hertz introduced its EV initiative in New York City and now offers EV rentals across three continents, including China and London as well as Washington DC, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Avis Budget Group also offer electric/hybrid rentals at select locations. Both Avis’s Green Car Initiative and Budget’s Go Greener. Drive Cleaner program encourage drivers to rent EPA SmartWay certified vehicles and consider fuel-efficiency as a top priority when renting a car.

Car-Sharing Programs

In addition to offering hybrid and electric cars, major rental companies have expanded into car-sharing programs like Hertz 24/7 on Demand and Enterprise’s CarShare, allowing consumers the opportunity to explore hybrid or electric vehicles by the hour and take them on a test spin.

Hertz 24/7 On Demand has approximately 40,000 members in six countries and on about 60 college campuses, with electric vehicles available for hourly rentals at a variety of locations. Hertz 24/7 On Demand has no annual fee with an average hourly rate of $8. Enterprise offers a similar service called CarShare with availability at over 70 university campuses and specialized car-sharing for government agencies and municipalities. CarShare typically waives its annual membership fee or offers “driving credit” for the first year; hourly rates vary by program and market. Over the past year, Enterprise Holdings acquired PhillyCarShare in Philadelphia, Mint Cars On-Demand in New York City and Boston, IGO in Chicago, as well as Zimride. Competing rental company Avis recently bought car-sharing company ZipCar for $500 million earlier this year.

It’s not just individual consumers who can take advantage of testing out electric vehicles through rental agencies. The largest electric corporate car sharing program in the U.S. can be found at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, CA. Google operates GFleet, which uses car-sharing technology managed through Enterprise CarShare. The GFleet is comprised of Nissan Leafs, Chevrolet Volts, Mitsubishi iMiEVs, Ford Focus Electrics and a Honda Fit EV available to staff. The vehicles have covered more than 825,000 miles through Google’s support for the program with some 400 EV chargers at its headquarters.

As you might expect, renting hybrid or electric vehicles means a more costly upfront fee. Hertz charges about $3-$5 more a day for these types of vehicles to cover the operation cost for holding the car. With Enterprise, rental prices for electric vehicles can range anywhere from $5 more than a conventional car to $20 less depending on several factors, including time, pick-up and drop-off locations as well as market and consumer demand. Thinking bigger picture, according to Lee Broughton of Enterprise Holdings, “At an estimated cost of $2 in electricity to fully charge a vehicle, clean fuel and engine technologies offer a cheaper and more sustainable transportation solution.”

In a special Wharton Report sponsored by Enterprise Holdings, “Next Step, Innovation: What’s Ahead for Urban Mobility,” Arthur Wheaton, an auto industry expert and professor at Cornell University, says that cities offer the best opportunity for electric vehicles. “Long-distance suburban commutes are difficult for electric cars,” he notes. “They work better for fleets, car-sharing programs, taxis and delivery services. For those uses, I think we’ll be seeing a lot more electric drivers.”

We look forward to the developments in the rapidly changing landscape of electric vehicle rentals. The nature of alternative fuel vehicles is continually evolving, and car rental companies are at the forefront of this conversation. We are pleased to report that EV rentals are no longer limited to the “eco-curious” audience, but are being explored across multiple platforms to a variety of customers including individuals, corporations, universities, and government agencies.

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.


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