Hertz Offers All-Electric Rental Cars

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(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) The fledgling electric vehicle market got a little boost yesterday, when Hertz Connect began renting all-electric cars.

The rental car giant is starting small, with just five Smart Electric Drives in New York City. "That's all we could get our hands on right now," says Rich Broome, a Hertz Senior Vice President. But he says, the company is committed to ramping up to 1,000 electric vehicles nationally—including plug-in hybrids—by the end of 2011. Other cities slated to get the rental EVs are Washington, D.C., San Fransisco and select college campuses.

The move is  good news for EVs, even if it isn't totally new. The first generation of electric cars, like the original electric Toyota Rav4, were available for rent at major rental car companies in the late 1990s before carmakers backtracked on production of the vehicles.  Zipcar currently offers plug-in Toyota Priuses as part of a pilot program in partnership with the city of San Fransisco. Zipcar tells Transportation Nation they've been renting alternative-fuel vehicles and hybrids since 2003, and they "welcome Hertz to the space." Zipcar does not offer an all-electric vehicle currently for rent to its members.

Still, carsharing is the first step to the broader exposure conventional renting might offer. Hertz is limiting their EV rentals to the carsharing branch of the company, Hertz Connect for now.They will monitor usage and demand to decide if rentals by the day could work for all-electric vehicles. The limitation is range. Most all-electric cars can go 50-70 miles per charge. Additionally, each charge could take about 3 or 4 hours, which ups the turn around time and space needs compared to gas rental cars.

As part of the EV launch, Hertz has installed eight charging stations around Manhattan,  mostly in parking garages, but the plan is to expand that to partners including Starwood hotels and on corporate campuses.

Broome says there has been significant interest from potential corporate clients who want their employees to rent electric when they travel to cities, or travel between designated corporate campuses that could each have charging stations.

By early next year the company will offer the Mitsubishi MiEV, Nissan Leaf and CODA electric cars. The Chevy Volt and electric Toyota Prius—both gas-eletric hybrids—will also be available for rent through Hertz's non-carsharing offerings because they can reach over 300 miles per tank of gas and electric charge.

The simplest benefit to the EV industry, though is low tech: that curious potential buyers will have the opportunity to test out a new kind of ride—and the various models out there. That might lure in a few new drivers who think of electric cars as inferior despite a faster response than most comparable internal combustion counterparts.

Listen to this story on NPR.