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Hybrid Car Rentals Go on Vacation

Want to color your travels green? Save gas money and possibly the planet by renting a hybrid car for your next vacation.

 

Think you can’t afford a road trip with your friends or family this summer? Think again. Consider renting a hybrid and you could save some dough—and contribute to a greener earth.

More travelers are opting for mini-vacations near home in the wake of airfare price hikes and the skyrocketing price of oil. And many travelers are choosing to go even further by renting a fuel-efficient gas/electric car.

Hybrid sales have exploded in the past two years; a September 2007 report by auto industry analysts R.L. Polk & Co. found that hybrid vehicle registrations increased nationally by 49 percent in the first seven months of 2007, with the largest increase—56.9 percent—occurring in the Midwest.

Green Rental Choices

In response to the growing popularity, rental car companies have added thousands of green machines and other fuel-efficient cars to their fleets.

Enterprise Rent-A-Car—which includes National Car Rental and Alamo Rent A Car agencies—has more than 5,000 hybrids in the combined fleet of 1.1 million. The highly recognizable Toyota Prius is the company’s most requested hybrid, but other hybrid choices include the Nissan Altima and Ford Escape hybrid models.

Avis and Budget together have a fleet of more than 425,000 cars, including 2,500 hybrids: 1,500 Toyota Priuses, 500 Nissan Altimas and 500 Ford Escapes. Hertz recently added 3,400 Toyota Prius models to its “green collection” of 35,000 hybrids and fuel-efficient vehicles that get at least 28 miles per gallon (mpg).

EV Rental Car, a small Los Angeles–based rental car company, was the first to rent exclusively clean-fuel cars back in 1998. It has more than 350 hybrids and eight rental locations (mainly in California and the Southwest), and rent out its vehicles through its partner, Fox Rent A Car.

Gas Savings

For many travelers, renting a hybrid car can mean substantial savings. A Toyota Prius averages 46 mpg, with higher mileage in town and lower mileage on the highway, aided by the automatic engine shut-off feature that occurs when the car comes to a stop and prevents wasted energy.

Elizabeth West, a Toyota Prius owner who has taken several road trips in her hybrid, says she gets as good or better highway mileage than in town. It depends on how much stop-and-go traffic you encounter. West says her recent five-day July Fourth road trip in her Prius—compared to a vehicle that gets 25 mpg—cost “half as much to go the same distance.”

Trade-Offs

Still, premium hybrid rental rates can outweigh the gas savings. Enterprise puts the Toyota Prius in their Full Size class, with cars such as the Chevy Impala and Nissan Altima, while other companies sometimes categorize them differently. In checking on the availability of a Prius in San Francisco, Calif., (reserved two weeks in advance) it fetched the per day price of $94—while a mid-size SUV costs $82 and an Intermediate class car (such as a Ford Focus) costs $75 per day. Meghan Maguire, public relations specialist at Enterprise, says that regional demand will also have an effect on rental rates. In one day, hybrid rates ranged between $69 and $89 per day in Los Angeles, but $39 to $79 in St. Louis.

And good luck getting hold of one. Avis and Budget were both sold out of their hybrid rentals when I browsed rates for their Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) location—one month in advance. Enterprise’s reservations Web site doesn’t list vehicle availability by model or make, says Maguire, because they rent by car class; she says that it’s best to call a location to verify specific regional rates and hybrid offerings.

Lisa Chan’s recent experience renting a Toyota Prius in Los Angeles left her with mixed feelings. A car enthusiast, Chan said the hybrid’s acceleration felt sluggish and when the engine switched from electric to gas, the car felt like it was about to die. But starting the car was the trickiest part—and no one at the National rental office explained the special procedure to Chan and her husband. “It was kind of disconcerting,” Chan says, but they figured it out by themselves: a series of pressing the brake, pushing the power button twice and shifting into gear. Still, Chan says, “It was neat to be able to try it,” and they were delighted that they used up only four gallons of gas for the entire weekend.

Rental Industry Eco-Evolution

Rental companies are moving toward sustainable business in all directions, whether it’s increasing the overall fuel efficiency of their fleet to contributing funds to ecological projects.

In April 2008, Enterprise opened four “green branches” in Atlanta, Ga., in which 60 percent of the fleets are comprised of hybrids and other fuel-efficient vehicles. Through Enterprise’s Keys to Green environmental program, the company has also contributed millions of dollars to tree-planting projects, and sponsors eco-credits that customers can buy to offset their car rental. The funds go to TerraPass, which funds clean energy projects across the country.

Advice for First-Time Hybrid Renters

If you’re renting a hybrid for the first time—whether for a road trip, leisure or business travel, or for a test drive—a few words of caution:

  • Pay attention to special operating instructions. On a business trip two years ago, Vince Alonzo and three colleagues rented a Prius for an overnight trip. The morning of their departure, the car battery was dead. Alonzo says that he recalls vaguely communicated hybrid instructions imparted by the rental company before he left that might have helped him avoid a dead car. Oops.
  • Make sure to get procedures explained thoroughly. Alonzo advises to tell the rental car agency, “You have to explain [instructions] to me like I’m an idiot.” Chan agrees. “Definitely, ask for the manual,” she says.
  • Be aware of the “special gear.” When you step on the brakes in a hybrid, the battery gets a charge. That’s great, West says, but too much braking—like coming down a mountain pass—can cause the battery to overcharge and the brake pads to overheat. The Prius has a special gear—the ‘B Mode’—to avoid exactly that.
  • Look out for premiums. Hybrids cost extra for a reason. Book far in advance and shop around for the best deals.
  • When in California … remember the carpool lane! If you’re driving a hybrid, you can cruise with the commuters in the diamond lane, even if you’re alone.

Themes: Ecotourism, Family Travel


User Comments

People who drive a title="Hybrid cars found to actually be a waste of money" href=" "> hybrid automobiles supposedly conserve a lot of money, along with the earth and so forth, by doing this. Hybrids do use less gas, and it would seem a fair claim on the surface. However, a study has just been released which rakes hybrid automobiles over the coals for wasting lots of money.

getting the green side of everything it's a great idea to let people experience the feel of riding a hybrid car by letting it available for rent. i think it's a best way to commercialize the car.~ hydrogen gas saver

Get Green for Being Green Reduced gas bills aren't your only saving options with using a hybrid on vacation. The Inn on the Alameda in Santa Fe, New Mexico is offering a "Wholly Hybrid" package for guests that arrive via hybrid vehicle. Stay a minimum of three nights and you'll get $50 for gas refill, $20 for a car wash, a "Love Your Mother Earth" bumper sticker, daily continental breakfast, daily afternoon wine and cheese reception, complimentary parking, all-day coffee service, free Wi-Fi in public areas and guestrooms, local and toll-free calls are no charge. Rates range from $375 to $1,177. Valid now through Dec. 12, 2008. Must be reserved by calling the Inn directly at 888-984-2122. www.innonthealameda.com

Small success story at Enterprise My wife and I rented a Prius from Enterprise in Arizona for a 3-day vacation. Avis, Budget, National, Alamo all did not have any hybrids in Arizona. Hertz had 3 Prius's but they were at the Airport only, which has a hefty additional tax. At Enterprise, the hybrids are listed under "Exotic Cars", so there needs to be some education. At the local branch, the staff worked with me to reserve a hybrid specifically. (Company policy allows you to only reserve within a group.) For the trip, even though the cost was $55/day and $18 more than the cheapest and smallest alternative, we saved a few dollars and polluted less, through gas efficiency. The total trip of 800 miles used less than 18 gallons of gas, at an estimated 53 mpg. My advice to all: keep pushing! Ask for a hybrid. Let demand drive the market.

Renting a Hybrid still at its infancy level... We are talking about 0.5% of the -entire- fleet of the major rental companies mentioned above. I guess it is indeed a challenge to get one and the rental companies have no incentive on making you a deal to rent one. Great! With all this demand for Hybrids and fuel efficient cars, may be I can get a good deal renting a Hummer next time I travel.

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