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National Review
National Review
9 Sep 2023
Andrew Stuttaford

NextImg:The Corner: Electric Vehicles: The (Unwanted) Car-Rental Preview

I have written before about how renting a car can turn into an unwanted preview of the electric-vehicle (EV) experience. Whatever the rental companies may be saying, it seems reasonable to think that car renters are increasingly being “forced” into EVs whether or not they want them because EV manufacturers are finding it more difficult than expected to find enough buyers for their product on the open market. Signing up for a central-planning project can be like that. Spotting a way to get hold of cars at a discount price, the rental companies have stepped up.

The Wall Street Journal:

Anne-Marie Angelo reserved an intermediate car from Budget Rent A Car for a one-way drive from Virginia Beach, Va., to Dulles International Airport with her 79-year-old mother in January. The rental agency didn’t have her car or much else, so it assigned her a “specialty” Kia.

Note to file: Avoid “specialty” cars from Budget.

The Kia Niro she got is an EV, which no one at the counter mentioned, the history professor says. Despite getting charged overnight, the battery drained quickly. With at least 70 miles to go on the drive, the range flashed 30 miles. She had to hunt for a charging station so it didn’t die on I-95 in cold weather.

Yup, cold weather can be tricky for EVs. But, but . . . progress. EV skeptics are horse-and-buggy types resisting a better future. Or so we are told. And no, EVs are not going to save the planet either.

The first location, a gas station listed in a crowdsourced app, didn’t have one. Budget roadside assistance said they couldn’t help because they don’t have mobile charging units, she says. By the time she found one at a car dealership, she had to move their late flight to London and pay for a hotel.

“Normally I can get from home to Dulles on one tank of gas,” she says. “I don’t plan for random stops in weird places.”

But, but . . . progress.

Budget refunded her rental and gave her two free rental days for future use, but didn’t reimburse for expenses. A Budget spokesperson says the agency “takes every customer experience seriously and has addressed the issue raised with our employees and the location involved.”

It was evident from my earlier post that EV skeptics should avoid Hertz. That, it seems, hasn’t changed:

Hertz has made the biggest EV bet among rental agencies. It has deals to buy more than 300,000 cars from Tesla, Polestar and General Motors and a partnership with Uber to rent EVs to ride-share drivers. More than one in 10 cars in its fleet are electric, a figure the company says will jump to 25% by the end of 2024.

Twenty-five percent! Worse odds than Russian roulette.

Trey Johnson, a winery sales director from West Chicago, Ill., drives a 2011 Nissan Sentra. He booked a Tesla for a one-day February business trip to Louisville, Ky., instead of his usual midsize sedan because of its cheaper last-minute rate. Plus, he wanted to see what the hype was about.

He says he asked the Hertz agent about the refueling rules and got only vague answers. He found operating the car a struggle.

“Just getting out of the garage, it felt like I was learning to drive all over again,” he says.

He pulled over to watch a Hertz video on how to operate it. Finding a Tesla charging station was easy, he says, but he didn’t like the 20 minutes it took to charge the car before he returned it.

“There are a lot of Tesla evangelists out there,” he says. “Once you get used to it, I think it’s probably quite fun to drive. I don’t want to get used to it.”

Mark Nielson, an infrastructure development consultant in Foster City, Calif., is in the top tier of Hertz’s loyalty program. When he landed in Chicago in May, he says he found several Ford Mustang Mach-Es. He passed because he was driving to Cincinnati and logging hundreds of miles after that and didn’t want any charging hassles.

“You could see people liked the Mustang and as soon as they saw it was electric, they moved on to something else,” he says.

A Hertz spokeswoman says the agency’s policy is to make “every reasonable effort” to get customers where they need to be if their reserved vehicle class isn’t available at the confirmed time.

“Every reasonable effort” ought not to be enough. If a customer has specified that he or she does not want an EV and the rental company agrees to guarantee an internal-combustion car but then fails to deliver one, the remedy needs to be much more than a shrug or some Scrooge-like voucher. Apart from anything else, there may be safety issues in renting to a novice EV driver. If the non-EV guarantee has to come with a premium, well okay.

Hertz CEO Stephen Scherr told Wall Street analysts in August that corporate demand for the rentals has picked up in the past couple of months since he pitched them to fellow CEOs as a “very real way” to meet new sustainability disclosure rules from the Securities and Exchange Commission and others.

So once again, “demand” for EVs is being stimulated by bureaucratic fiat, not true customer choice.

Nicholas Cicio, a part-time Uber driver in Philadelphia, rented a Tesla from Hertz for a week this summer under the companies’ partnership. It was cheaper than other rentals and Uber pays more per ride for EVs, he says.

Cheaper than other rentals, eh? I wonder why.

The car was only 50% charged when he rented it, he says. That didn’t worry him initially. But the battery drained more quickly than he expected. On the second day of the rental, the car died on a busy street when he was half a mile from a charging station.

Hertz sent a tow truck, but it couldn’t get into the garage at the first charging station. Two more stops were a bust. They drove 20 minutes outside the city to find a Tesla supercharging station, he says. The 25-year-old hasn’t rented an EV since.