February 22, 2024

Didcot Gateway

Building Cars, People First

Rental car companies should focus on trucks, not Teslas

Hertz has been in the news a lot lately. The company went bankrupt during the height of the coronavirus pandemic in May 2020, announced reorganization plans in March 2021 after two investment firms spent $4.2 billion to buy a majority stake in the company, and then hired former Ford boss Mark Fields as its new CEO earlier this month. The news that’s getting all the headlines now, though, is the rental car company’s purchase of 100,000 new electric cars from Tesla.

There’s a bunch of background information that ought to be discussed and broken down further about that deal, but that’s not what I want to talk about today. Instead, I’m wondering why we all seem content to do this vehicle buying versus vehicle renting thing completely backwards. By that I mean Americans are buying pickup trucks and SUVs at a greater clip than ever before, and while sales of plug-in vehicles are gaining momentum, they still represent only a small portion of the overall market. 

I’m well aware that I’m not breaking any new ground by suggesting people who don’t need gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs shouldn’t buy them. I understand the appeal of trucks and SUVS, and I even have an old 1993 Suburban parked in my own driveway. I also know that Americans are going to buy and drive whatever they want (and can afford) to buy and drive, which means this whole argument is going to fall on deaf ears. Still.

Wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to drive the hyper-efficient car on a daily basis and rent the big fullsize truck or SUV for those few times you actually need its capabilities?

To be clear, it’s already possible to rent a pickup truck or SUV. A truck can be rented by the hour from places like U-Haul, Penske or Home Depot. Trucks and SUVs are offered by pretty much all the car rental agencies, too. What I’m suggesting is that an enterprising company could make a business case out of catering to EV owners, offering attractive rates and possibly even partnering up with manufacturers looking to offer an extra incentive to new vehicle buyers who choose to go electric. Launch it with fanfare, sort of like what took place when Hertz announced its Tesla buying spree alongside a marketing push starring the most famous football player who ever lived.

I’m all for companies like Hertz offering electric rental options and offering them to any customer that wants one, regardless of what kind of vehicle they have parked in their driveway at home. But what I’d like to see is a rental car agency put in a huge order for non-luxury fullsize pickup trucks and then offer them for reasonable rates to people who already own electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles. Having a well-publicized program to help would-be EV buyers transition from gasoline to electric may go a long way toward pushing hesitant shoppers over the edge, replacing their traditional truck purchase with an EV. And if that were the case, it’d be a much larger environmental victory than adding 100,000 Teslas to Hertz’s fleet.

Even forgetting all about the idea of a company like Hertz focusing on truck rentals for EV owners, now might be a good time to point out that a specific marketing program isn’t necessary. It’s also worth pointing out that the fuel savings would be a boon for the wallet. A quick peek at the EPA’s official website says a Mach-E will cost $1,826 less per year to charge and drive than a reasonably efficient F-150. The same holds true of big SUVs and, to a lesser degree, V6-powered minivans. That leaves quite a bit of money for a rental here and there while still realizing a hefty savings. And this savings chart doesn’t factor in the purchase price (have you seen how much a decent four-door truck costs these days?) or any potential tax incentives for EV buyers.

So there you go. It’ll eventually be a moot point once reasonably priced electric trucks and SUVs are available in enough quantity to satisfy demand. But for now, park the efficient car with a plug in your driveway. Rent the big truck or SUV when you need it. It makes a lot more sense than doing it the other way around.