The rental giant is building out its all-electric vehicle fleet early, so we rented a Tesla and drove it for 4,500 miles to see how it's going and what challenges remain.
Hertz is leading the charge to turn rental cars electric. In our most recent three-car, 10,000-mile road trip to find the best mobile network, we devoted our longest leg—a vast 4,500-mile loop around the American West—to driving electric.
We went with Hertz, because we found after some research that it was the only rental company that could make this possible for us.
Three companies—Avis, Enterprise, and Hertz—own almost all of the US car rental market. (Alamo, Budget, Dollar, National, and Thrifty are all owned by those three.) Of them, Hertz is by far the most aggressive in switching to an all-electric fleet. The company has committed to 100,000 Teslas in late 2021(Opens in a new window), followed by 65,000 electric cars from Polestar(Opens in a new window), although both fleets will be distributed globally, not just in the US.
So far, Avis has only hinted at offering electric cars(Opens in a new window), and while Enterprise has “several thousand” in its “exotic car collection,” an Enterprise exec told(Opens in a new window) Reuters it has “no immediate plans” to increase the size of that fleet.
Jeff Nieman, Hertz’s senior vice president of operations initiatives, told us that Hertz’s move is about “being a leader in the future of mobility” and “reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” Between the lines of his quite practiced remarks, though, there’s a sense that Hertz is trying to skate to where the puck is headed.
“Electric vehicles are increasingly mainstream and demand is growing,” Nieman said. “Today, 40% of US consumers say they are likely to consider an electric vehicle the next time they are in the market for a new vehicle, according to Pew [Research Center]. Global EV sales skyrocketed 200% in the last year, and will continue to grow with commitments from global automakers to increase EV sales.”
So Hertz is betting that now is the time when the industry is going electric, and it wants to get out ahead of that change.
As Car and Driver points out, this isn’t the first time car-rental companies have taken a gamble on electrics. Hertz and Enterprise both took stabs at offering electric vehicles from 2011 to 2017(Opens in a new window), but wound those efforts down somewhat in the face of low gas prices and consumer confusion.
The big difference, Car and Driver notes, is charging. As we found on our 4,500-mile road trip, it’s now much easier than it used to be to get a quick charge in many metro areas, especially if you have a Supercharger-compatible Tesla. And Hertz has Teslas.
The electric transition will be pricey. The base MSRP of a Tesla Model 3 Long Range is $55,990 and a Polestar 2 Long Range goes for $49,900, both considerably higher than the traditional cars Hertz offers. The Chrysler 300, one of Hertz’s fanciest “standard” cars, has an MSRP of $33,545. Cars in Hertz’s “prestige collection,” such as the Infiniti Q50 and Jaguar XF, generally have base MSRPs between $40,000 and $50,000.
Hertz will eventually make some of that back on maintenance, but that’s after a “significant investment” in charging infrastructure, Nieman said.
“These are still early days but our experience to date is that maintenance on EVs is generally lower than that of a comparable ICE vehicle,” he said.
Hertz charges a premium price to rent an electric vehicle, but it comes with premium service. Our driver Angela Moscaritolo told us she was treated like a VIP at the San Francisco Airport Hertz, including getting a half-hour lesson on how to use the car’s advanced features. (Our story was not sponsored, PCMag paid for our Tesla rental.)
Looking at sample rentals from June 2 to 9 at Atlanta’s airport, we found available Tesla Model Y cars for $546.32 per week, $195.79 more than a Chevy Malibu, Ford Fusion hybrid, or a VW Jetta. At Los Angeles’ airport for the same dates, a $771.74 Tesla Model 3 Standard was $335.34 more than that Chevy Malibu, but it was on par with the price for a Chrysler 300 or a Ford Mustang convertible.
While you’ll save on fuel, that doesn’t make up the difference from the workaday cars. Electrek says(Opens in a new window) it costs about $5.33 per 100 miles to charge a Tesla Model 3 right now. With an AAA national average gas price of $4.59 per gallon and the Chevy Malibu’s 29mpg rating, that’s only about a $10 difference per 100 miles. That would add up if you own a car, but for a few days in a rental? Maybe not.
On the other hand, you’re driving a Tesla.
For more, take a look at our story comparing fuel costs on the Tesla, a hybrid, and standard gas vehicles.
The number-one topic among potential electric car owners is range anxiety. But that’s not a big deal for Hertz, which generally rents cars to help people get around a metro area.
Less than half of EV rentals at Hertz need to be charged at all before being returned, Nieman told PCMag.
According to Cox Automotive, a three-year-old rental car will have been driven about 60 miles a day. With Hertz’s fleet using cars that get around 200 miles per charge, that means in general, a weeklong rental would only need to be recharged once.
And of course, as we proved, you can in fact take a Tesla on a 4,500-mile road trip without much charging drama, especially if you’re traveling on the Supercharger-heavy coasts.
Partnering with two electric car companies has given Hertz more options in a tight market, but it also presents a charging conundrum. Hertz has installed 1,000 240-volt, Level 2 chargers in 80 of its locations so far, and plans to increase that to 3,000 by the end of the year. That will charge a car in three to five hours, which is fine if Hertz doesn’t turn the vehicles around too quickly.
Tesla has its own proprietary fast chargers, but Hertz is trying to keep its options open by using a multi-device solution.
“We are building out our infrastructure to include Level 2 and DC fast-charging stations to accommodate our EV fleet. The chargers can be used on any vehicle, but adapters are needed to accommodate charging connectors on the various models,” Nieman said.
Unlike with a Tesla dealership, you can’t stop by your local Hertz to recharge. But as you do with a gas car, you don’t have to return it fully charged or face a penalty. For now, that is.
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I’m that 5G guy. I’ve actually been here for every “G.” I’ve reviewed well over a thousand products during 18 years working full-time at PCMag.com, including every generation of the iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy S. I also write a weekly newsletter, Fully Mobilized, where I obsess about phones and networks.
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