I’ve bought or leased about a dozen cars and SUVs in my lifetime, and taking delivery of all of them involved a ritual I very much enjoyed. The salesperson would disappear into the service area at the back of the dealership and then pull up front with my carefully detailed new vehicle.
“Get in,” the salesperson would instruct as he or she exited the vehicle and moved to the front passenger seat.
The salesperson would give me a tutorial on my new vehicle and how to use its increasingly more advanced functions. My last three vehicles were Subarus and before that I owned an Acura. Both brands are at the forefront of advanced safety features and electronics and required longer tutorials lasting nearly an hour. The tutorials were among the reasons I was loyal to my salespersons; admittedly, the professionalism and dedication of car salespersons isn’t what it used to be.
Cousin Rob doesn’t have the same fond memories of taking delivery of his first Tesla Model Y. When his vehicle was ready, Tesla called him to say he could pick it up at a lot in Marina Del Ray. Upon his arrival, he was given a two-sheet primer instructing him where to find his car and a few tips on some basic functions. Driving an EV is a radically different experience than operating a gas engine vehicle, and it takes time to adjust.
“It was a very foreign and harrowing experience,” Cousin Rob recalls.
Countless travelers are in for Cousin Rob’s experience this summer travel season if they rent from Hertz. Saahil Desai, a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, recently sounded the alarm and his experience renting from Hertz serves as a cautionary tale.
Here’s a taste what Desai experienced.
The best way to cap a weekend road trip, I can assure you, is not by jostling for an EV charger outside a Sheetz gas station in Scranton, Pennsylvania. It’s Memorial Day, and I’m in a runt of a rental car trying to outmaneuver a Ford F-150 Lightning. Thirty minutes of waiting for a charger to free up is bringing out my most Darwinian instincts: Like an eagle swooping down to nab a goat, my tiny black Chevy Bolt EUV swings into the spot before the pickup even knows what’s happening. The adrenaline rush of sweet victory is immediately tempered by an emotional letdown. My car needs an hour of charging before it’s ready to go again.
I didn’t ask for any of this. Three days earlier, I had booked Hertz’s cheapest option—in this case, the “Manager’s Special”—assuming I’d end up with a forgettable sedan. What I did not consider was an electric car. “Sorry, it’s all we have,” the man at the Hertz counter in downtown Brooklyn said as he handed over the keys. With no forewarning, no experience driving an EV, and virtually no guidance, what was supposed to be a restful trip upstate was anything but. Just a few hours of highway driving would sap the battery, leaving me and my friends scrounging for public chargers in desolate parking lots, the top floors of garages, and hotels with plugs marked for guests only. It was a crash course in EVs for four people who had never heard of CCS versus CHAdemo, the 80/20 rule, and Level 3 chargers.
Maybe the same thing will happen to you, if it hasn’t already. After my disastrous weekend, I talked to three rental-car experts: All of them were familiar with the phenomenon of the surprise EV, a result of how much the industry is leaning into electric cars. Only 4 percent of Americans own an EV, but Hertz plans for a quarter of its fleet to be electric by the end of next year.
Here’s the mint graph about Desai’s ordeal.
(EVs) are great, potentially planet-saving machines, but the ordeal made me want to wage a slash-and-burn campaign against all of them.
A reporter from the The Atlantic railing against EVs is very noteworthy. For those unfamiliar with the publication, it promotes alt-left narratives and is bankrolled by Laurene Powell Jobs, Steve Jobs billionaire widow, so it can publish misinformation without financial accountability. The Atlantic during the pandemic was at the forefront of legacy media publications dismissing anyone who questioned vaccine safety and effectiveness as quacks, and many of their stories have since proven false or misleading. One Atlantic writer last October called for a “pandemic amnesty,” saying it wasn’t productive to focus on all the media’s erroneous Covid reporting.
Underscoring the fragility of The Atlantic’s readership, the publication was forced to fire within weeks a respected conservative columnist it hired to provide more diverse viewpoints because of reader protests.
My initial reaction reading about Desai’s ordeal was one of delight, as he strikes me as yet another hypocritical alt-left journalist who hails EVs as “planet-saving” machines but cries foul when he’s required to drive one and finds it inconvenient. Another EV hypocrite is Mariel Garza, deputy editorial page editor for the alt-alt-left Los Angeles Times, who publicly declared in April she was ready to trade in her electric vehicle because of charging issues.
President Biden, whose policies The Atlantic and the Los Angeles Times wholeheartedly support, declared in a speech last July that climate change “literally, not figuratively” is “a clear and present danger. The health of our citizens and communities is literally at stake.” Yet Desai and Garza complain when faced with the realities of driving an EV in America.
Nevertheless, Desai makes some good points. He acknowledges considerable resistance Americans already have to electric vehicles and that sticking them unexpectedly in EVs when they are traveling on vacation will likely heighten opposition.
“Renting an EV has to be a good experience, not a last-minute surprise that upends your whole trip,” Desai says.
It strikes me as dangerous and questionably legal that rental car companies can substitute an EV when a customer reserves a gas engine vehicle. No one should drive EVs without a detailed briefing on how to operate them. Loren McDonald, an EV consultant, says the switch is akin “to a businessperson going to an office-rental store back in the late ’80s to get an IBM Selectric and the person at the desk says, Oh, we’re out of those. Here’s a Macintosh computer.”
Hertz would like you to believe the company is promoting EVs because the private-equity controlled outfit deeply cares about the environment and wants to do its part. A more likely reason is that EVs are easier to maintain, and both Tesla chief Elon Musk and GM CEO Mary Barra these days are willing to unload their EVs on the cheap because of softening demand.
In recent weeks I began noticing some Chevy Bolt EVs in Los Angeles, figuring the moribund GM brand in California was gaining some traction. More likely, they are Hertz rentals from LAX, which is near my West LA home. Hertz and GM jointly announced last September that the rental company would buy 175,000 GM branded electric vehicles over the next five years.
To put that in perspective, GM in 2022 sold a mere 39,000 EVs, up 57% from a year earlier. While GM’s electric Bolts are assembled in Michigan, 80% of the parts are from South Korea. GM’s electric Equinox, which will be launched later this year, will be assembled in Mexico, where Ford also proudly manufactures its electric Mustang. In addition to getting fleet EV discounts, Hertz likely qualifies for lucrative tax breaks buying Mexican-made electric vehicles and renting them to Americans.
Hertz had a deal with Tesla to acquire 100,000 of that company’s vehicles in 2022, but the rental company took delivery of less than half the promised number. That was possibly a blessing because it appears that Hertz’s EV supply far exceeds demand. The three cheapest rental-car options Desai could find for a recent weekend at New York’s JFK airport were all EVs. At LAX, the cheapest EV was available for $40 a day, compared with $88 for the “Manager’s Special.” At Midway in Chicago, the only available cars were all EVs.
Travelers wanting to avoid Hertz’s EV switcheroo would be wise to consider National, Alamo, or Enterprise.
“We will not introduce large numbers of EVs into our fleet until we have clarity that the customer experience meets our standards,” Lisa Martini, a spokesperson for the company that owns all three brands, told Desai in an email.
A toast to Martini, a PR woman who does her name proud.