Thursday, April 18, 2024

Why Renting An Electric Car May Be A Bad idea

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I was out in the CleanTechnica herb garden this morning gathering some fresh fennel for my vegan antipasto when Zachary walked over to tell me about a conversation he had with a fellow who had rented an electric car and was trying to figure out how to charge it.

Zachary was charging his Tesla at a Supercharger location when a person driving an IONIQ 5 pulled up and wanted to know if he could charge the car there. He said he wanted to rent a Tesla but the company didn’t have any available so he got the IONIQ 5 instead.

Being the committed emissary of the electric car movement that he is, Zachary did his best to help the other driver out, but it was a struggle. “When I tried to help him figure out where and how to charge, I nearly got a headache from it!” Zachary told me while bending down to check on some thyme he planted last week. “It was such a challenging experience, and then I realized after we parted ways that I didn’t give him some important information. When he was leaving, I told him how much I liked the IONIQ 5 and how it was at the top of my list. He didn’t seem thrilled with it. All he could muster himself to say was that the car was pretty spacious inside.”

Zachary thought for a minute while rolling a spearmint leaf between his thumb and index finger, then said, “The other part of this is shifting baselines. Electric car enthusiasts think that what they know is easy to know and intuitive to others. It may not be. In my experience with EVs, it certainly isn’t. Different chargers and charging speeds. Different vehicles’ ability to accept different rates of charge. It’s a mess.”

Take Care Of Your Customer

Back in the days before I became an exalted internet journalist and was selling cars for a living, my boss liked to say, “Do something right for customers and they will tell three people. Do something wrong and they will tell one hundred.” Today with the advent of social media, one person can influence thousands or tens of thousands of people. In this case, that driver is likely to tell those in his circle of influence that he had a miserable experience driving an electric car and it will all be because of the difficulty he had trying to charge the car.

It will so taint his experience, he will never appreciate how quiet and comfortable the car was, how regenerative braking makes driving more pleasurable, or how pulling away from an intersection when the light turns green leaves all the other cars around you in the dust. Instead, all he will tell people is how difficult it was to charge an electric car. That negative vibe will expand outward like ripples on a pond to taint the expectations of others.

The Electric Car Rental Experience

The universe is such an interesting place. No sooner had Zachary left the herb garden than an email popped up in my inbox from Channel 7 ABC News in Sarasota, Florida entitled “Tips for travelers looking to rent an electric car.” The article said that some people are renting an electric car as a way of getting familiar with them before purchasing or leasing one themselves.

It quoted Morgan Dean, a spokesperson for AAA, who said renting an car could be a good opportunity to see how it feels to drive one and to learn about the technology inside the vehicle.

“We’ve always kicked the tires or done test drives when we’ve checked out a new vehicle. But with EVs, it’s a little bit different.

“It’s not just a new vehicle, it’s a new way of thinking about your vehicle. It’s not stopping to get gas, it’s stopping to charge the vehicle. And the components inside the vehicle are all different as well. There’s no internal combustion engine. It’s a caw with an electric motor. So there are a lot of things that are really, really different and that can be a barrier for some folks.”

Dean acknowledged that renting an electric car might not be for everyone, especially those who want a low stress trip. “If you’re flying to a destination and planning on doing a lot of driving and could be driving through areas that don’t have a lot of charging stations, that could be a problem and that could cause extra stress on a vacation.” Instead, he suggested renting one for a weekend and driving it locally where the driver is familiar with the area and charging locations.

Charging An Electric Car

You are not like to find a group of people more firmly committed to the electric car future than the writers and staff at CleanTechnica, and yet we recognize that driving an electric car is a different experience, one that takes some getting used to. Take me, for example. For years, I used a flip phone and thought it was just fine. Then I bought a Tesla and needed an smartphone to even get into the car. My wife had to show me how to use my new iPhone and I still probably don’t know half the things it is capable of doing.

In our considered opinion, rental car companies are doing a disservice to the EV revolution by not educating their customers to what makes driving an electric car different from driving a conventional car. Planning for charging stops is something many people don’t even know they should think about. My colleague Jo Borrás told me over chai this morning, “It’s bonkers to me the rental companies don’t ask about where the person expects to charge and then makes sure they at least have Electrify America and ChargePoint apps or cards to use. That drives me nuts!”

I have friends who rented an electric car in Las Vegas earlier this year. They had no instructions from the rental company before they drove away. Fortunately, they were only driving locally and had enough charge to get where they needed to go and back. They told me they had no idea how to charge the car if they needed to.

Manufacturers Are Irresponsible

I told the group this morning that a lot of the blame for this cockamamie situation belongs to the manufacturers. Before they sell electric cars to rental companies, they should require them to have robust policies in place to make certain customers who rent an electric car have a good experience. Otherwise, why bother? To sell a few extra units that clueless people will rent, have a bad experience with, and tell their friends and colleagues to never, ever buy an electric car?

That is nuts. EVs are new technology and as foreign to the ordinary driver as the cockpit of a 737. Expecting people to hop in, adjust the seat and mirrors, and just drive away with no orientation is absurd and ultimately undercuts the push to sell more EVs. Shame on Tesla, GM, Hyundai, and Ford for letting this happen.

Chargeway To The Rescue

Jo Borrás says he has the solution — an app called Chargeway. Tell it what kind of car you are driving and it will use your location to give you a charging map. It rates each charging station on a scale of 1 to 7 where one is the slowest (50 kW) and 7 is the fastest (350 kW). “If your car only allows charging up to 5, it will only show you chargers in the 1 to 5 range. It only shows you what stations are online and only ones that have available ports. It only shows you working, available chargers that work for the vehicle you are driving.” Jo says.

Some readers may recall we did a story about Chargeway back in 2018. It was started by Matt Teske, a graphic designer, electric car advocate, and marketing expert who lives in Portland, Oregon. He thinks one of the factors holding back the EV revolution is that buyers and sales people are confused by all the new terms that apply to the electric car experience. Kilowatts, kilowatt-hours, volts, amps, fast charging, Level 2, CCS, CHAdeMO, Supercharger — it’s a lot to absorb. To address those issues, he created Chargeway, a system of simple graphics that make electric car charging easy for everyone to understand.

Teske started with an interactive display for new car dealer showrooms designed to demystify the EV buying experience. Sales data showed that dealers that used Chargeway in their showrooms sold far more electric cars than dealers who did not. The app grew out of that experience.

The Takeaway

Sending a person off in a rented electric car without explaining how and where to charge is like putting people who have never been on the water in a sailboat, pushing them away from the dock and yelling, “Goodbye. Have fun!” It’s not the customer’s fault if they don’t know what to do, it’s the rental company’s fault for not educating them and the manufacturer’s fault for not insisting those companies give customers a proper orientation.

Sometimes it seems major business corporations have not the slightest clue how to take care of their customers to build long term relationships. Too many business majors and not enough people who understand how businesses become — and stay — successful.


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