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Tesla Model 3 electric vehicles at a Hertz neighborhood location.

Consumers may be on the fence about whether it’s yet time to buy EVs, but car-rental giant Hertz Global Holdings has made the leap.

Markets boosted shares of Estero, Fla.-based Hertz after its recent earnings report, as first-quarter revenue hit $2 billion and per-share earnings of 39 cents handily beat forecasts of 21 cents a share. But behind the short-term numbers is the company’s long-term adjustment to big changes in transportation, tourism and energy: Hertz is going electric.

The company plans to have 25% of its 500,000 vehicle fleet be electric by the end of 2024, up from 10 percent now, as it accelerates purchases under its deals to buy 330,000 vehicles from Tesla, Polestar, and General Motors. These deals began to roll out last year, after Hertz’s first Teslas hit the road in 2021 and experiments with rental EVs extended back over the past decade. GM vehicles are beginning to arrive in quantity now, Hertz CEO Stephen Scherr said on the company’s earnings call.

“At the end of [March], we had about 50,000 electric vehicles in our fleet, comprising approximately 10% of total cars,” Scherr said.

Recent price declines in the market as Tesla started a war for market share in a softer economy — though it recently moved prices back up — have helped the rental car company with its buying spree.

“I think the drop in price on EVs is an encouraging proposition for us in that if I’m 10% moving to 25%, and I’ll get higher from there, I’m obviously a happier and a better buyer at a lower price point than not,” Scherr said.

The company is forecasting nearly 2 million EV rentals in 2023, approximately 5 times the number of last year, he said.

Over time, EVs have the potential to remake the business model for rental car firms, according to Oppenheimer & Co. analyst Ian Zaffino.

For the rental car company, depreciation expense from EVs is lower than internal-combustion engine vehicles because Hertz keeps electric cars longer, and partly because they are cheaper to operate and anchor rideshare programs, another area where Hertz keeps cars longer. Rental car companies like Hertz and its rival Avis Budget Group keep them longer, Zaffino said, and at least for now, charge a premium price for many EVs, though a Hertz spokeswoman declined to confirm an average price for EVs or gasoline-powered vehicles. 

Uber deal, rideshare market benefits rental car companies

The popularity with rideshare drivers who rent them by the week or month, allows rental firms to save on routine expenses like cleaning and contain marketing costs, though Deutsche Bank analyst Chris Woronka notes that rideshare drivers pay a lower average daily rate than other clients.  

A traditional vehicle loses as much as 1.25% of its value each month, while EVs lose about 0.85% to 1%, Zaffino said. Multiply that by the 200,000 to 300,000 vehicles the company sells in any given year and the savings are substantial, he said.

“The more the vehicles hold their value, the less it costs to hold them,” Zaffino said.

That helps Hertz, which also owns the Dollar and Thrifty brands, to hold onto cars longer and buy fewer of them than it otherwise would, he said. 

Hertz has also told analysts that the growing EV rideshare market can be a buffer against traditional quarterly peak to trough experienced in the leisure business. 

As Covid pushed Hertz’s rental metrics down by nearly 50 percent, the ridesharing business was looking to recover from its own Covid-created downturn. So players like Uber and Lyft were primed to make deals with rental-car companies like Hertz and Avis. 

Hertz’s deal with Uber lets drivers rent EVs for as little as $285 a week for a GM car like a Chevy Bolt EUV, rising to $334 and up for a Tesla Model 3 and higher for a Model Y SUV. 

The benefits of using an EV begin with a $1 per ride credit to the driver for using an EV, Uber spokeswoman Alix Anfang said. Drivers also save on gasoline and depreciation. In addition, the driver is eligible for higher-priced fares under the company’s Uber Comfort Electric service, which is between the mid-tier Uber Comfort plan, which focuses on newer or more luxurious vehicles, and the more expensive Uber Black service. Rental fees also cover the driver’s commercial insurance, she said.

“We have a great EV story to tell – a few actually,” Anfang said in an e-mail. “We’re kicking off some driver education events to help with our mission to get them into EVs.” 

An Uber-dedicated charger at a BP Pulse electric vehicle charging station in central London, U.K., on Monday, April 11, 2022.
Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Hertz says the average driver renting an EV rather than a gas-powered Hertz car will earn 10 to 15 percent more overall, and that 50,000 Uber drivers have rented an EV through Hertz, driving them more than 260 million miles. Uber says 4.1% of its U.S. miles driven are in an EV, eight times more than  the general population.

That’s backed up by Tracy Lynn Young, who has driven for Uber in metro Atlanta for seven years. She pays $340 a week for her Tesla, and says she can bank $1,800 driving on a busy weekend, thanks partly to the EV incentives and the curiosity of riders who request a Tesla because they’ve never been in an EV. The incentives alone nearly pay for the car, she said.

Bonus: Her charging costs $120 a week less than her gas once did, monthly maintenance is included, and she’s saving her own car, which had racked up 95,000 miles in two years working as a rideshare driver and real-estate salesperson.

“When they want comfort, they want a ride in a Tesla,” Young said. “A lot of people want a ride in a Tesla [so] they can experience it.” 

Business travel is half of Hertz rentals and is going electric

The company also benefits from the push for environmentally-focused corporate management, Zaffino said. Hertz gets almost exactly half of its rentals from business travelers, and many companies are turning to electric vehicle rentals as part of broader plans to reduce their carbon footprints, he said.

Hertz offers consumers incentives to assuage concerns about EVs’ range and scarce charging facilities, and to prod them to try the new cars, the company said. 

Hertz, which has a partnership with BP‘s Pulse for the build-out of EV charging infrastructure at Hertz locations in major U.S. cities to serve both its customers and the public, isn’t charging customers for recharging if vehicles are returned at least 70 percent charged, and the company offers an option where the EV can be returned with a charge as low as 10 percent of capacity for a $35 up-front fee. It’s also offering 30 percent discounts on prepaid May EV rentals, using the early part of the summer travel peak to promote its transition.

“I think adoption will sort of continue to take hold,” Scherr told analysts on the recent earnings call.

He pointed to requirements on the way in cities across the U.S. that will require Uber and Lyft networks to be all-electric “by some date in the not-too-distant future” — five to seven years from now. “I would say to you that I think Hertz and our EV fleet is the most affordable entry point for drivers to get into those electric vehicles and use them,” he said. “And needless to say, I’m happy in that we get more of these EVs on rent at attractive rates but maybe most importantly, at attractive margins in terms of what we see happening.”