By Elissa Garay
Mar 1, 2022
Courtesy of Turo
Turo, the Airbnb of car rentals, provides a peer-to-peer rental platform with a mix of EV, hybrid, and standard cars.
The great American road trip is about to get electrified, thanks to a boost in EV inventory from rental car companies like Hertz, Enterprise, and more.
For road trip–loving travelers, developments like soaring gas prices and the “rental car apocalypse” may have overshadowed cheerier news around the rental car industry’s recent green facelift. While tracking down electric vehicles—or EVs—from a major rental car company was once a near impossibility, the industry’s newfound embrace of battery-powered cars is poised to revolutionize vacationers’ on-the-road experience for 2022 and beyond.
Leading the (literal) charge, car rental giant Hertz announced plans in October 2021 to purchase 100,000 Tesla Model 3 sedans for distribution in the United States and select European markets; with the deal, EVs will make up more than 20 percent of the company’s global fleet. Hertz is also establishing 3,000 chargers in 65 U.S. destinations, including airports (like Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, San Francisco International Airport, and Orlando International Airport) and neighborhood locations, by year’s end—with more coming in 2023. The announcement marks a rise from the ashes for Hertz, which went from a pandemic-induced brush with bankruptcy to a boundary-pushing EV marketing campaign pitched by NFL star Tom Brady (an EV driver himself).
Meanwhile, Enterprise Holdings (behind the Enterprise Rent-A-Car, National Car Rental, and Alamo Rent a Car brands) is also bolstering its fleet’s EV offerings, which already include thousands from manufacturers Tesla, Nissan, Hyundai, and Polestar (a Volvo spin-off)—many of which were added in early 2021.
“We’ve embraced the responsibility we have to transition our fleet to EVs and are committed to doing so in a thoughtful way,” Lisa Martini, spokesperson for Enterprise Holdings, tells AFAR. She says the company is prepping for “high volumes of EVs” at large airports, though stopped short of adding specifics about volume, locations, or timeline, saying only that the rollout would be “thoughtful and deliberate.”
And last fall, stocks soared for Avis Budget Group—which owns Avis Car Rental and Budget Rent A Car—after the company suggested to investors that it, too, would be adding more EVs to its fleet. While Avis has yet to release the particulars of that expansion (it declined to comment for this story), the share of existing hybrid and electric vehicles in its global fleet was reported at around 3 percent in 2021.
Experts say the rental car industry trend is reflective of America’s broader societal shift toward electric cars. “EV growth is here to stay, so we will see more EVs in all parts of our automotive experience,” including rentals, says Mark Schirmer, a spokesperson for Cox Automotive.
With those developments underway, here’s everything you need to know about renting an EV right now.
For many EV drivers, their motivation is the environment—and rightfully so, says Joel Levin, executive director of nonprofit EV advocacy group Plug In America. “In terms of the environmental benefit of it, it’s quite large,” he says, for travelers who choose EV rentals, which can reduce carbon emissions by roughly two-thirds over gasoline-powered cars and lessen impacts on climate change and local air quality.
According to the Pew Research Center, nearly 40 percent of U.S. consumers are likely to consider an EV for their next car purchase. And experts say an EV rental may be their entrée into the driver’s seat, for a try-before-you-buy experience.
“EVs in rental car fleets will help more people experience EVs for the first time, and this will likely be a positive for EV adoption,” explains Schirmer, of Cox.
Apart from easing travelers’ environmental conscience and affording them a front-row seat to emerging technology, EVs can mean significant savings on gas, too: no small thing, considering prices at the pump are roughly a dollar higher per gallon than a year ago. Levin says that while the costs of charging can vary widely by network, location, vehicle model, and type of charger used—ranging from free hook-ups to pricier “DC fast” chargers—renters can expect EV charging to consistently cost less than gas. (Electrify America, one of the nation’s largest charging networks, tells us that an average charging session that takes an EV from 10 percent to 80 percent charge—the recommended charging cap—would fall in the range of $17 to $23.)
Despite an evolving marketplace, EV rentals remain relatively scarce. At press time, they were advertised on just four car rental sites: Hertz and Enterprise Holdings sister brands Enterprise, National, and Alamo. (Tip: Hybrid vehicles, which have both electric motors and gasoline engines, were more widely available across all rental brands.)
Also note that because most car rental aggregator websites don’t feature filters for EV-specific results (Kayak is one exception), the cars typically have to be sought out directly through the rental agencies themselves.
According to Hertz, consumer demand has been strong for its Tesla inventory, which debuted to the public in November and has since rolled out in the following markets: Atlanta, D.C., Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando, and San Francisco. Searching random summer 2022 dates, we easily tracked down Teslas in L.A., with weekly rental rates from $603 before taxes—only about $100 more than their standard sedans. In Miami, a week’s summer rental was also a cinch to book, if a bit costlier, at $834 before taxes.
Enterprise Holdings tells AFAR that its EV inventory, which is advertised in the luxury (like the Tesla Model S) and intermediate (Nissan Leaf) categories across its three brands, is largely concentrated in West Coast locations, where Martini says “demand and infrastructure currently support their usage.”
On the Enterprise site, we turned up swankier Tesla Model S weekly rentals for select summer dates out of L.A., albeit at a pricier $1,300 before taxes (yet just $100 more than a premium SUV rental), although intermediate Nissan Leafs were unavailable. Conversely, we could find more reasonably priced Nissan Leafs out of San Francisco (from $518/week before taxes) but no Teslas. We couldn’t find Teslas at all in our sample searches on National or Alamo, but both brands had Nissan Leafs available at comparable rates to Enterprise but, again, only out of San Francisco (not L.A.).
Outside of traditional rental car companies, another key player is Turo, the Airbnb of car rentals, which provides a peer-to-peer rental platform with a mix of EV, hybrid, and standard vehicles. The company tells AFAR that growth in the EV market has been explosive, jumping from fewer than 200 listings on the site in 2014 to upwards of 27,000 in 2021, many of which are Teslas. In our searches, this was the best bet to secure an electric vehicle in the largest number of markets, at competitive prices to boot: We found a wide span of EVs for summer weekly rentals in markets all over the country, including Austin (from $570, including taxes), NYC ($540), Chicago ($660), Miami ($497), and L.A. ($568).
As with any new technology, there’s a learning curve that comes with operating EVs. Yet Schirmer advises that, overall, the differences are minor. “EVs are easy to drive and immensely enjoyable,” he says.
Laura Smith, executive vice president of sales, marketing, and customer experience at Hertz, agrees. “Most drivers adapt pretty quickly,” she says, noting that the company provides Tesla renters with ongoing access to online tutorials and support staff.
Of far greater concern for most prospective EV renters, however, is the prospect of running out of power on the road—a fear so prevalent that it even has a name: range anxiety. While the median range for an EV is about 250 miles per full charge, EV mileage calculations are dynamic and can shift based on such variables as incline, acceleration, and temperatures.
And when it’s time to power up, Schirmer says that given the scarcity of EV charging options in some places, charging “is still far more complicated than filling up the tank at a local gas station.”
Yet charging infrastructure is getting better, slowly, with expanding availability from players like Hertz and Tesla, as well as public charging companies like ChargePoint (18,000 charging locations across almost all states and Canada), EVGo (800-plus stations in 34 states), and Electrify America (800 stations in 46 states). PlugShare, which tracks more than half a million charging stations globally, says that the number of stations it tracks grew by 40 percent in 2021. Plus, there’s more to come: The 2021 federal infrastructure bill has earmarked $7.5 billion for developing a nationwide network of EV charging stations.
“Charging infrastructure is robust around population centers, along popular travel corridors, and in tourist destinations,” explains PlugShare representative Dan Wheeler.
Still, charging stations are far from ubiquitous. “You want to plan ahead for where you’re going to be charging, so you don’t get stuck,” says Levin.
Sites and apps like PlugShare, A Better Routeplanner, ChargeHub, and Open Charge Map can help map out U.S. charging stations. Google Maps also features a filter for EV charging stations, while Tesla has its own trip-planning tool.
Keep in mind, too, that not all EV charging stations are created equal: There are three different tiers of EV chargers, ranging from the slowest Level 1, midrange Level 2, to ultrafast Level 3 (aka DC fast) chargers. The latter can deliver substantial, if not full, charges in roughly half an hour—insiders say these are the ones renters should track down when not planning to linger for meal breaks or to explore nearby shops or attractions.
Another pro tip is to book a hotel with charging stations available to guests. Major chains like Marriott and Hilton offer the amenity, while websites like Charge Hotels and PlugShare compile listings for charger-equipped lodgings.
Of course, all of that charge-hunting can kill some of the open-road spontaneity that many road-trippers thrive on, forcing drivers to plan itineraries around charging access. To loosen those limitations, look to states like Colorado, Oregon, and Arizona, which are among the first to have designated scenic driving routes that are specifically equipped for electric vehicles.
In general, Levin says, first-time EV road-trippers should look West. “The West Coast is better,” he says. “California, Washington, and Oregon have all put a lot of effort into EV charging.”
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