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EVs for share or rent?

The world’s transportation ecosystem has hundreds of species of vehicles, each one adapted to the requirements of its particular niche. Some niches are clearly well-suited to EVs, and others are probably not.

Urban delivery trucks, which typically make route-based journeys from a central depot and consume a lot of diesel fuel, can quickly recoup an investment in electrification. AMP Electric Vehicles, discussed on page 54, is just one of several EV makers poised for success in this field.

Other applications are less suitable for EVs, at least within the limits of current technology. Many believe that while gas/electric hybrids make excellent taxis, pure EVs will not, as cab drivers like to keep their vehicles rolling, and don’t want to lose time charging. Not everyone agrees, however. In April, New York City deployed six LEAF taxis, and some drivers say they don’t mind a coffee break in the middle of a shift.

The real benefits and drawbacks of any new technology only become apparent after a certain amount of real-world experience. Some of the predictions about how EVs will and won’t be used are sure to be wrong.

What about car sharing? This increasingly popular service is handy for people who usually use public transport but occasionally need a car. Customers pay a subscription fee, and can rent a vehicle at short notice, perhaps for only a few hours.

Some see car sharing as a killer app for EVs – users make short journeys, return the cars to designated locations, and needn’t worry about high up-front costs. Others are skeptical, pointing out that some customers need shared cars to get to remote locations or to move large objects.

In Paris, the yea-sayers are winning the day. Autolib, which launched in late 2011 with a fleet of 250 two-door Bolloré Bluecar EVs, now has 1,800 vehicles and 4,000 charging points. Customers have made the City of Light one of the world’s EV capitals. The company plans to expand to Lyon, Bordeaux and Indianapolis.

Daimler subsidiary Car2go introduced electric car sharing to Amsterdam in 2011 with a fleet of 300 smart fortwo electric drives, and has since expanded to Austin, Vancouver and San Diego.

Other ventures have seen less success. Peugeot Citroën’s sharing service has 350 EVs in Berlin, but has no plans to expand that number. The Swiss firm Mobility began offering EVs in late 2011, but currently has only 19 Think Citys in service, out of a total fleet of 2,650 vehicles.

Traditional car rental customers may seem a poor fit for EVs. Most are vacationers or business travelers who reached their destination city by air, and need a car to get around in sprawling suburbia for a few days. However, a new partnership called Drive Electric Orlando (DEO) believes visitors to the Sunshine State will find driving an EV to be another fun Florida experience.

“Orlando’s visitors now have an opportunity to try out an exciting technology while saving time, saving money and making a difference,” said Robbie Diamond, CEO of the Electrification Coalition, the coordinator of DEO. “We see this program as Orlando’s newest and smartest ride.”

With 57 million visitors a year, Orlando is the world’s largest rental car market. The area also has over 300 EV charging stations. “Where better to introduce Americans to the electric car?” says Diamond.

Partner Enterprise Rent-A-Car now offers LEAFs at Orlando International Airport. Lee Broughton, Enterprise’s Head of Sustainability, offered what may be the most compelling reason of all for rental EVs: “We know that the car rental experience is often an extended test drive.”


This article originally appeared in Charged Issue 10 – OCT 2013

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