Five Questions About Electric Car Rentals

By · August 23, 2010

Nissan LEAF

Is the Nissan LEAF the ideal rental car? Or have good green intentions been misplaced?

Even the most ardent electric car advocates openly agree that pure EVs are not for all drivers and for all purposes. Yes, electric cars can meet the daily driving needs of the vast majority of U.S. drivers. But for long-range driving, or other cases where you far from home and not familiar with your routes (or the location of charging stations), maybe it’s best to drive an efficient car that has a gas-engine on board, like a hybrid or plug-in hybrid.

That’s why I have doubts about Enterprise and Hertz jumping so quickly on the EV bandwagon. If you believe the press releases, there will be hundreds of Nissan LEAFs available for rent at Enterprise and Hertz starting in January. Enterprise will apparently send LEAFs to rental fleets in Los Angeles, San Diego, Portland and Seattle, while Hertz will have the LEAF in New York, Washington and San Francisco.

Enterprise will begin installing charging stations at locations in the Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz., Knoxville and Nashville, Tenn., San Diego, Los Angeles, Portland, Ore., and Seattle markets.

"As a company that owns and operates the world's largest fleet of passenger vehicles, we have a vested interest and a history of working with manufacturers to integrate alternative-powered vehicles into our fleet," Lee Broughton, director of sustainability for parent company Enterprise Holdings, said in a statement. He added, “The details are still being worked out," Broughton said.

As usual, the devil is in the details. Five (sets of) questions come to mind about EV rentals.

  1. When it’s hard enough getting around an unfamiliar city, do you really want to navigate your way to a local charging station? If you’re renting for a longer road trip, will you be prepared to charge every 70 or 80 miles during a business trip or vacation?

  2. Will a progressive hotel chain seize the opportunity and establish charging stations so guests can fill up overnight? And if they do, how will it coordinate the needs of multiple EV-driving guests?

  3. Will the rental companies charge customers for a full battery pack, when the electricity for 100 miles of driving might cost them only a couple bucks? Will they require customers to return the car with a certain level of charge? And will they be prepared to take the car offline for a few hours to recharge for the next customer?

  4. Will EV rentals from Enterprise and Hertz primarily serve as a kind of car sharing demo program, mostly for consumers wanting an extended test drive of an electric car? That seems like a good idea, but if those consumers don’t have Level 2 equipment at home, are they going to be satisfied with slow Level 1 charging from a common 110-outlet?

  5. The car rental companies say they will charge a premium for the electric cars. How much? Will the combination of higher cost, and other nagging concerns about range, charging, and a general lack of familiarity give the wrong overall impression to those customers and the public?

Maybe I’m worrying about nothing. Maybe Enterprise and Hertz are working out every single detail, and it’s going to be a great program to promote consumer adoption of electric cars. But at this stage, I’m not getting it.


· · 7 years ago

I usually only drive a few dozen miles on my (all too often) business trips. For these, refueling either for me or for the rental company is a big hassle. I can see how an EV could take the hassle away from both. Then, again, there are other trips where there are a lot of visits to lots of places or long distance drives from city airports to suburban businesses where an EV in unfamiliar territory would be a problem.
If, on the other hand, some large Hotel chain (Marriott, Hilton, etc) were to commit to having charging, very few of my business trips have very much daily mileage. I could easily see a combination of rental car company collaborating with a hotel chain to make this a great deal for both.

· · 7 years ago

I had the same concern about taking an EV on a longer trip, either a rental or one I owned, so I started writing to hotel chains and asking them if they would consider installing EV charging stations in their hotel parking. So far I haven't gotten a really great response, but I hope that as electric vehicles become more popular, hotels will see the benefit in accomodating them. It shouldn't be too difficult for them to install!

· · 7 years ago

I think the customers will have to be very clearly warned about the limited range. I guess they will work for some people that only need to rent the car for a short drive. Personally, I'm going to rent one for a week as soon as they are available in my area. I just want to get a good feel for the car.

· · 7 years ago

Has anyone checked whether these EVs will have heating? California no problem but Portland and Seattle in winter time?

· · 7 years ago

Yes, they have heaters. They also have air conditioners, radios, and the most essential thing: cupholders!
They are normal cars, they just have a different power train and energy source.
Don't be suckered by the auto and oil industry who would have you think that electric vehicle = golf cart/wheelchair just because Chrysler chose to give away golf carts when they were pressured to actually build electric cars.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 7 years ago

The car rental companies will have quick charge stations, available only to commercial customers, that can charge to 80% in 25 minutes. There is really no downtime like there is when you only have a level 2 charger which takes 8 hours.

· · 7 years ago


My Rav4EV was designed for the 1996 model year. It not only has heat and AC. It also has a heated windshield, heated seats, power windows, power steering, power central locking, power brakes and a cigarette lighter (remember those?). The only thing my car doesn't have that the gas version does is.... An engine. A gas tank. Exhaust system. Pollution.

That was 1996. The modern EVs will go way beyond with mobile phone apps that'll allow you to preheat or precool the interior, check tire pressure, unlock the car, check charge status, etc. In other words, the new crop of EVs will be all that and a bag of chips.

· · 7 years ago

Does this mean the rental companies will get cars before others with a reservation? Doesn't see fair. I plan on using my car for daily commuting. Not sure how much use the cars will get at Enterprise or Hertz.

· · 7 years ago

Does this mean the rental companies will get cars before others with a reservation? Doesn't see fair. I plan on using my car for daily commuting. Not sure how much use the cars will get at Enterprise or Hertz.

· SageBrush (not verified) · 7 years ago

I backed off renting a Prius from Enterprise when I saw they were charging over double compared to a sub-compact. Will they reform their gouging nature for an EV ?

· · 7 years ago

John: Yes, it probably does but how do you know they didn't have the deal in place before anyone even had a reservation? Fleets that buy in large numbers always get special treatment. If they like the response they get from their customers, they might end up buying thousands of them every year. It would be foolish for Nissan to not give them preferential treatment.

Sage: I would certainly expect a premium price as is the case for the Prius rental. I was talking to a rep at Enterprise last month when I rented a car and he told me the Prius is the most requested for them. Strange to me because you usually don't drive that much with a rental to really make a difference in gas and honestly, the car isn't much to look at and isn't more comfortable than other cars in that class. I guess everyone just wants to see what it is all about and experience the hybrid drive system.

· SageBrush (not verified) · 7 years ago

Tom, After I posted I also thought I might pay the rate just to experience a Leaf. Since I own a Prius, that obviously does not come into play. But then I thought to myself "with my chintzy nature ? Dream on."

Stranger things have happened though. I paid through the nose to spend an afternoon on a Segway running around Austin TX on a city tour along with my daughter, and we had a blast.

· Jacke (not verified) · 7 years ago

India is going the diesel way rather than electric car..again a dangerous trend Tata Nano diesel
Maruti SX4 diesel
Chevrolet Beat Diesel
Nissan Micra Diesel

· · 7 years ago

@Jacke, I believe that the electricity grid in India is already pretty stretched. They have a long way to go before they could support significant numbers of EVs. EVs will be more practical at first in developed countries or, perhaps, in China. As the technology improves and India improves its infrastructure EVs will become viable there also. But it will take some time.

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