A New Lease on Sustainability: Rental Cars Go GreenApr 18th, 2012 | By Samantha Superstine
Lee Broughton is head of corporate sustainability for Enterprise Holdings, which owns the Alamo Rent A Car, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and National Car Rental brands.
What inspired Enterprise to consider including electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrids in its fleet of rental vehicles? Have there been any financial incentives to do so, and are other vehicle service providers (i.e. car sharing services) adopting similar business models?
We have long thought of our fleet as a ‘Petri dish’ that we can use to help grow the market for EVs and other clean-fuel technologies. We operate more than 5,500 car rental locations within 15 miles of 90 percent of the U.S. population, which puts us in a unique position to introduce millions of drivers to EVs and help them get used to the new technology.
We’re essentially giving our customers an extended test drive when they rent any type of vehicle from Enterprise, and that’s especially important with new vehicle technology. We’re a key part of the value chain, helping connect manufacturers with hundreds of thousands of consumers, which is essential to the adoption of new vehicle technologies.
The reason we make EVs and other alternatives available is to give our customers the fuel efficient vehicle options they want and to help grow the market for cleaner engine technologies. We recognize that keeping the passenger vehicle acceptable to society is crucial to the long-term success of our business and our industry.
Are there certain elements of city infrastructure that encourage consumers to rent EVs? Which cities have exhibited the greatest response to the inclusion of electric vehicles in Enterprise’s rental fleet?
The primary infrastructure need is the ability to charge the vehicles. We install charging stations at Enterprise rental offices in each market where we offer EVs, but it’s also important that more charging stations are available throughout the market so our customers know they can recharge at other locations if necessary.
We work with local organizations—public and private—to help develop charging infrastructure to support EVs. In fact, we’re a member of the Electrification Coalition, and one of its priorities is helping to develop EV infrastructure in cities and communities that will help EV adoption succeed.
We’ve had tremendous support and collaboration in all of the local markets where we’re making EVs available. You can check out some of our alternative fuel vehicle announcements in our press room, where many of these local organizations are represented.
What percentage of Enterprise’s fleet is comprised of EVs? How willing are customers to rent EVs compared to ICEs? Is there a price differential for the rental of different types of vehicles?
We offer EVs at about 50 Enterprise Rent-A-Car locations throughout the United States, and through Enterprise’s car-sharing program and business rental programs. The number of EVs in our fleet, currently more than 400, continues to grow, with EVs being added regularly.
We consider a variety of factors when we make our pricing decisions, including the cost of the vehicle, demand, current fuel costs, and the operational investment to support the vehicle—such as installing charging stations and down-time when the vehicles need to be charged after they’re returned.
We’ve seen good demand for EVs since we began introducing them. Some customers want an extended test drive as they consider buying an EV, some are just curious about the new technology and some simply want a vehicle they feel is better for the environment. And the increase in fuel prices also tends to bring about an increase in consumer awareness of fuel efficient car rental options, such as an EV.
Is Enterprise tracking the carbon emissions saved from the replacement of ICEs with EVs? How are increased emissions from electricity providers being taken into account?
Generally, monitoring the emissions generated by customer rentals is very challenging because of the broad range of our customers’ mobility needs and driving habits; comparing emissions from different vehicle types in our fleet is even more challenging.
However, we have calculated emissions from our operations which gives us insight into electricity use by our rental branches, including those that offer EVs. At the same time, we’re undergoing a company-wide effort to reduce energy use and associated costs by 20 percent each by 2015.
We haven’t seen a major spike in energy use at those branches, but this is an area we continue to monitor. Also, our local operations have strong relationships with many types of organizations in the markets where they are located, including utilities, and that collaboration helps us optimize our energy use.
What is Enterprise’s plan moving forward with EV rental cars, and what lessons can be used from the company’s experience to inform policymakers to make decisions that would be more EV-friendly?
The future of our business and our industry depends on keeping passenger vehicles—and the fuels they use—economically viable and acceptable to society. With that in mind, embracing EVs and other new, alternative vehicle technology is a key driver of our operations. We’re adding EVs to our fleet as our manufacturing partners make them available, and plan to continue that to meet our customers’ demand.
A key takeaway is that introducing EVs and other new vehicle technology to society should be pragmatic and market driven, supported by the necessary infrastructure and appropriate public policies. It’s important to add new technology into the marketplace, but it must address the public’s driving requirements to sustain itself over the long term.
Feature photo: cc/lincolnblues