[Date Prev][Date Next]
[cdn-nucl-l] NYTimes-Travel Section-Electric vehicles...
...will they propel the electric economy?
December 24, 2000
Electric Rentals Gaining a Niche
By BETSY WADE
On a recent Friday night in New York, people clustered on Amsterdam
Avenue, wanting to try a little electric scooter in taxi-yellow and aluminum.
Daniel Hakim, the owner, said his Italian- made EV-Scoota was the only one on
the road in the United States; a container of 50 was waiting in Los Angeles
while he found a sales distributor. He turned the scooter on; it made barely a
The crowd grew, but the restaurant proprietor came out to say Mr. Hakim's
table was ready. Bidding his audience goodnight, he lifted off the battery,
which is in the footrest, folded the scooter and carried both inside.
The cute attention-getter was one indicator of an expanding choice in the
vehicles we drive and ride. The Federal Clean Air Act of 1970 is bringing more
and more alternatives to the gasoline engine into our lives, and as the larger
vehicles begin to appear in rental-car fleets, it becomes possible to try them
on a short-term basis.
California, where Mr. Hakim expects his scooters will make their debut, is in
the vanguard of change. By 2003, 10 percent of the cars sold there must be
modified to reduce the emissions they put into the atmosphere. Regulators are
debating how this 10 percent is to be apportioned: the question is whether
four-tenths of the 10 percent must be emission free, meaning electric - larger
versions of the yellow scooter - or whether this proportion may drop to two-
tenths. The remainder of the 10 percent goal can be met by near-zero- emission
vehicles like extremely clean-burning gasoline engines, natural gas engines or
combined gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles.
California is the vanguard, but it is not alone. New York, Massachusetts,
Vermont and Maine have elected to follow its model, one option the states have
been given to meet the federal requirements. In New York, some hybrid buses
are now in service, and some state agencies and utilities have put
alternative-fuel vehicles in their fleets. Jennifer Post, a spokeswoman for
the State Department of Environmental Conservation, said New York had been
waiting to see what California comes up with before writing its regulations.
POCKETS OF CONVERSION
It is possible to test the future, although not yet in New York. In
California, as well as in Phoenix and Las Vegas, Budget Rent a Car has linked
up with a Los Angeles company that went into the business of low- emission
rentals, EV Rental Cars. Together, they are offering electric cars,
natural-gas fueled cars or hybrids. Hertz has just put its toe into the water
at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. And a company called Zapworld with
headquarters in Sebastopol, Calif., has five outlets that rent electric
vehicles, some of them only in warm weather. One of its affiliates, in Panama
City Beach, Fla., says it gets big business at spring-break time, when
students cruise the strip in electrics.
Zap Hampton, an affiliate in East Hampton, N.Y., deals only in electric bikes
and scooters, but the owner, John Swanson, said he hoped to offer Zapworld's
little cars in the coming year. "It will be great," he said. "Parking is
impossible out here."
Peter M. Iwanowicz, who represents the American Lung Association in Albany, by
no means an objective observer, loved driving an electric. He said he rented a
Honda EV Plus from Budget EV - the initials stand for environmental vehicle -
in May while attending a clear-air conference in Los Angeles. "I plugged it
into a wall socket in my sister's garage in Orange County overnight," he said.
"Then at the meeting, I plugged into a solar panel outlet."
A spokesman for EV Rental Cars, started in December 1998, said the company
approached Budget for an affiliation because Budget was strong in specialty
cars. The company now has nine outlets with Budget: seven in California - Los
Angeles, Sacramento, Beverly Hills, Ontario, San Diego, San Francisco and Palm
Springs - and two others, in Las Vegas and Phoenix. When possible, EV rents
its cars from airport branches. A total of 260 vehicles are in the
low-emission fleet: electrics, hybrids and natural-gas users.
The spokesman, Terry O'Day, said negotiations with various agencies were going
on in Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Regions where these cars
are rented - or owned - must have sites where vehicles can be charged, or
where natural gas can be pumped. Some states are providing special incentives;
for example, drivers of E.V.'s are permitted in carpool lanes, even if they
are alone, in Arizona, California, Georgia and Virginia.
HOW-TO'S OF RECHARGING
Mr. O'Day said that his company usually had one of its experts on hand to
explain the cars, which takes about 10 minutes: how to read the dashboard
indicators, how to conserve power, where the battery is plugged in, and to
provide information about where to recharge or refuel. Each Budget location
also has one Budget agent trained in the E.V.'s. Their range can be an
inhibition if there is no recharging station on the renter's route. The
hybrids do not have this problem; they switch to the other mode. The rental
cost is comparable to that of a similar gasoline-powered vehicle, he said.
Mr. O'Day said that calls for reservations outstripped the size of the fleet,
even though EV has six times more cars this year than it did in 1999. "We
could rent lots more electric cars, and lots more hybrid Honda Insights, if we
could get them," he said.
Those who ask for the low-emission cars, he said, are more often men - he
thought this was a factor of the business-travel population - and usually in
the 35-to-55 age bracket, working in the technology area or environmentally
There are more than 300 recharging stations in Southern California, and an
electric vehicle may need recharging every 100 miles or less. If the car is
completely discharged, the process takes five hours - overnight, basically.
Two hours for lunch or shopping, however, will usually suffice to complete a
day trip. (A station finder is available at www.cleancarmaps.com.) EV's Web
site, www.evrental.com, quoted $360 a week for the Honda EV Plus Mr. Iwanowicz
picked. Budget EV Rental Cars: (877) 387-3682.
A spokesman for Avis, Greg Faulhaber, said that it did not have any
alternative vehicles, and had no plans for them. Hertz, which has just gotten
into the business, has a two- part program. In cooperation with Bay Area Rapid
Transit, it began offering long-term rentals last May at the Fremont station
of BART in the East Bay. Commuters into and out of the area pick up or leave
off the cars at the station. Andrea Church, a spokeswoman for Hertz, said that
keeping cars out of downtown was part of the goal, but in addition, some
families can avoid buying second cars just to drive to rapid transit. The
charging station is close to the BART entrance.
Also, on Beach Street at Fisherman's Wharf, Hertz is renting vehicles called
Think City cars, also pure electrics made in Norway that carry two people.
These rentals, according to Ms. Church, cost about the same as a regular
subcompact; early in December, the price was $40 for a one-day rental on a
weekend. The car is pictured on www.thinkmobility.com. A reservation can be
made at Hertz in San Francisco at (415) 674-8330.
Zapworld, as its name might imply, has a strong suit in electric scooters,
bikes and Sea Scooters. But it also rents two-seat and four-seat electrics
called GEM cars, for its maker, Global Electric Motorcars in Fargo, N.D.,
which was recently bought by Chrysler. "Zap," incidentally, stands for zero
air pollution. The vehicles look like grown-up toddler cars, or golf carts,
but are legal on the street in 36 states. These open- sided vehicles are shown
at www.zapworld.com, under "neighborhood vehicles" and at Global's site,
In Panama City Beach, a Zapworld outlet called Wave of the Future has been
renting these cars for a year. Jeff Jones, the owner, said GEM cars had a 35-
to 30-mile range and recharged on the usual 110-volt outlet, which some
restaurants provide outdoors. The full recharge usually requires six to eight
hours. Hourly rentals are high: $45 for two hours of a two-seater, $85 a day.
A week's rental of a two-seater is $565, and a four-seater is $625. Wave of
the Future: 13212 Front Beach Road, Panama City Beach, Fla. 32407; (850)
In addition, Zapworld headquarters rents GEM cars, as does New World Sports at
Fisherman's Wharf in some seasons. Zapworld: 117 Morris Street, Sebastopol,
Calif. 95472; (707) 824-4150. New World Sports: (415) 931-0234. Information on
all Florida locations should be available from (800) 226-0767.
Mr. Hakim's electric scooter, which will probably sell for $1,900, can been
seen at www.evscoota.com.
A New York hotel, the Parker Meridien, has been lending Razor scooters to
interested guests, but the Hotel Triton at 342 Grant Avenue in San Francisco
puts a California twist on the idea: "Room With a Zoom" includes a 24-hour
rental of two Zapworld scooters. They fold, can be carried upstairs and get a
recharge from the room outlet. Hotel Triton: (800) 433-6611.