Enterprise Rent-A-Car has announced an agreement with CODA Automotive to introduce 100 CODA Sedans into its rental fleet beginning in 2011. The move brings the total number of all-electric vehicles Enterprise will soon offer its customers to 600, with the company already having committed to the purchase of 500 Nissan LEAFs.
As per a previous agreement, Enterprise will also provide courtesy rentals for CODA customers during service and maintenance periods. Interestingly, a joint press release provided by the companies also mentions that they are discussing "other innovative partnership opportunities to help accelerate the adoption of all-electric cars." Could this possibly be in reference to some sort of rental voucher system—similar to the one that Nissan is reportedly considering?
Renault has already announced that it will sell its European plug-in fleet bundled with free rentals from Avis to provide customers coverage for trips outside the range of their EVs. It's an idea that has been bandied about for years as a means of giving customers the chance to own a limited-range plug-in as their only car, but still have the peace of mind of knowing that when they do need to take a longer trip, a vehicle will be provided to them at no additional cost.
Of course, there's no such thing as a truly free service. Whatever agreement Nissan, Renault or CODA might come to with a car rental company like Enterprise will paid for somehow—either as an optional agreement at the time of purchase or tacked on to the starting sticker price of the vehicle. What these schemes basically amount to is an insurance policy to alleviate the fears of some customers that they won't be able to drive 300 miles to Grandma's when they have to.
That there would be nothing preventing any of these customers from renting a gasoline-powered car for longer trips anyway is beside the point. Carmakers who are entering the EV market will initially all be fighting battles of perception over electric vehicles, whether it be by including artificial noises to ensure their cars don't sneak up on pedestrians, or giving customers free rentals to prove that they'll never be "stuck" within the confines of their car's 100-mile range.