This information makes it more clear why people aren't so sure about EVs and why some dealerships just won't deal with them.
Back in January, I wrote an article about renting out a Fiat 500e on Turo. I said I had planned to start renting other EVs on turo and eventually return with my experiences on those. Well, it’s almost a year later and here we go. I have now been renting out a Chevy Volt, Prius Prime, BMW i3 Rex, and more recently a Tesla Model 3, in addition to the Fiat 500e. Each of these vehicles seem to have their own set of challenges renting them to the general public. But first, I want to talk about some of the issues that seem to span all of the vehicles. This has given me real insight as to why many salesmen at dealerships don’t like dealing with EVs.
“What do I use that for?”
This is, unfortunately, a common response I get when showing somebody the location of the 120V charging cable, which is usually in the hatchback somewhere. Despite enormous effort to advertise these cars as electric vehicles, and even having opening lines in the description that start with, “This is an electric vehicle. It DOES NOT USE GASOLINE, AT ALL.”, I get a surprising number of people show up believing these cars to be either traditional gasoline cars, or they will say “I thought it was just a hybrid.”
In the case of the Chevy Volt or the Prius Prime, it isn’t a big deal. They just drive off and treat it like any old hybrid and it gets them where they need to go. But when this happens in the BMW i3 or the Fiat 500e, for example, this is a serious problem. Often these people have nowhere to charge the car, and/or they are planning to take it on a long trip. If they cancel, they get hit with a $50 fee. If I cancel it, then I get hit with a $50 fee and a ding to my reputation on Turo. So, this often presents some friction. Usually, I will call Turo customer service and explain that the customer didn’t know it was an electric car, and usually they’ll cancel without the fee.
The Puzzle of the Charge Cord.
Whenever I get a car back, I always give it a full detail job and make sure it looks absolutely clean inside and out. As expected with renters, often the cars are returned dirty, both inside and out. Sometimes I’m truly amazed how filthy a car can be sometimes after just a 24 hour rental. On a few select times I spent 4 hours cleaning a car that was rented for just 1 day. I simply cannot imagine what these people’s own cars look like that they drive every day.
And, while some renters do return the cars more or less clean. One thing that seems common between all renters is the location of the charge cord. Each car has a special place to store the cable in a neat and organized fashion. I always make sure to nicely wind up the cable and put it where it goes. But on each and every return the cable is just dumped in the back somewhere in a big, tangled mess. A few times there were even knots in the cord, and covered in mud. The only situation where this will not happen is with the plug-in hybrids where the renter never charges it.
Each and every time I rent out a car there are certain features I go over. One thing in common between all of my cars is that they use automatic climate control. I explain to each and every person not to treat this like the control in their gasoline car, and instead to just set the temperature they want the car to be, much like their house thermostat works. However, in each and every case when a car is returned, I can see that they ignored my instructions and instead used the controls like they would expect a gas car to work. If it is cold outside, the temperature will be set to the 90s, and if is hot outside, it will be set into the 50s or whatever the lowest setting is the car will go to.
What they are essentially doing is assuming the same paradigm of how their gas car’s air conditioner works. With those, you set the temperature as hot or cold as it will go, then adjust the fan speed as needed. And that’s exactly what they are doing here. When I receive the car back, the temperature will always be set at the extreme and the fan speed set to the lowest setting. This is a very inefficient way to operate these controls and ultimately they will pay the price in range loss.
“The charge cord doesn’t work!”
One of the many things I always explain to people is that the 120V charge cable is very, very slow. It is meant for overnight charging only, and that a full charge can be 24 hours. Despite this, I’ve received many calls from people saying it is broken. When I ask them what is happening they say they plugged it in 20 minutes ago and haven’t seen any change in the range. Then I will have to reiterate to them that it takes 20+ hours for a full charge on that cord. They act like it is the first time they’ve heard this, when it isn’t. Then they’re angry because now they’re going to be late getting wherever they need to go, or whatever.
Public Charging is a Pain.
None of the chargers in the Dallas/Ft.Worth areas can use credit cards. Well, I think maybe 2 of them do. All the rest require a RFID card from EVGO, Chargepoint, Blink, or whatever. So, what I’ve started doing is just given them the cards to activate these stations and then adding in any fees they encounter along with their tolls when the car is returned. While this has certainly made things easier for my customers, the reality is that charging for them has been anything but easy. I have received any number of calls where they were not able to get the charging station to work. In some of these cases, it was because of charging stations being out-of-order. Sometimes it’s because they arrived at a charger that is not compatible with the car, such as Chademo station when they need CCS. But in most cases it is simply operator error. I mean, you wouldn’t think operating a public charger would be any more difficult than operating one of these modern gas pumps. But for some reason, they can’t figure it out. I have had to even drive out to their location a few times and show them how to use the charger because explaining it over the phone just wasn’t helping.
In many cases, this has left more than one customer saying they would never buy an EV because charging it is so inconvenient. Of course, I try to reassure these people that if they bought an EV they would need to get a 240V charging station for their home and they’d never be having these issues. This rarely leaves them reassured.
The 2014 Fiat 500e
This vehicle has been one of the toughest vehicles to deal with. The EPA range is only 86 miles, but the reality is when conditions aren’t ideal the range may be closer to 55 miles. This is especially true if it is cold outside and the customer is driving it on the highway at high speed.
I have now had 3 different customers wind up getting the car towed. In each case they claimed there was something wrong with the car, that it didn’t achieve the range I promised them. One guy that rented this car was so inept, I felt bad giving him the keys. I knew he was going to get it towed because nothing I was saying was making sense to him. Sure enough, I got a call from him because he was stranded. Shortly after, I got a call from Turo saying that my car was broken down and they were sending roadside assistance to jump the battery. I had to explain to them it was an electric car and there was no way they were going to jump the battery. This person even left me negative feedback saying the car was junk.
In each case where this has happened, the customer said it “wouldn’t hold a charge” or some nonsense. One person said it only drive 25 miles before dying. Another said it only went 40 miles. On each case, I took the car out the next day and drove it on the highway at 65 miles per hour and verified the range was around 80 miles before needing a recharge.
In each of these cases the people renting the car really didn’t understand what they were getting themselves into. The climate control was set to the extreme (despite my warning) and after talking with the customer I deduced that they were trying to treat the car just like a gas car. Basically, they wanted to drive it until it got low on a charge, and then try to find some place to charge it. But, by that point, it is always too late. There’s never a charger anywhere nearby. I also suspect they were driving 85 mph on the highway.
I’ve had a few people call me up saying the car wouldn’t go into gear. This is a result of the way the Fiat 500e handles the key. You must “start it” like a regular car, but there is no sound of an engine starting. The only result is the screen changes the status from “not ready” to “ready.” But otherwise, there is no obvious difference. So, if you just put the key into the car and turn it on, but fail to move it to the “start” position the car looks like it is on and ready to go, but it won’t let you put it in drive.
Along with these problems, I’ve had so many people show up thinking it is just a gasoline powered Fiat, I have had to remove this car from “automatic booking.” Now, I require them to request a booking, then I call them and talk to them about the car first. I make sure they understand what they are renting and also that they sound capable and intelligent enough to drive the car without getting stranded. If I’m satisfied, then I will approve the rental.
The Fiat 500e is a polarizing car. Some people come back loving it, and others come back hating it. It’s about a 50/50 split. Although one thing people do always compliment it on is how fast it is.
Most of the rentals on this car are for 1 to 5 days. It gets rented about 1 week out of the month on average.
2014 The BMW i3 Rex
This car has been somewhat less of a problem than the Fiat 500e. It rents out a lot, one of the most popular in my fleet. However, I do get a lot of people trying to rent it thinking it is “just a hybrid.” And, since it is the Rex model, it technically is a hybrid. But, I do have to explain to people the limitations of the Rex. I’ve had a few people think they were going to drive it from Dallas to Houston, for example. And while it can make the trip, I think they would be sorely disappointed in the top speed when running on the Rex, plus having to stop once an hour to fill up the 2 gallon gas tank.
This car has never been towed, however it came really close one time. I got a call in the middle of the night and the driver said the car was flashing warnings telling him to plug it in now and it was slowing down. He wanted to know how to start the gas engine. I explained that it starts automatically when the battery runs down. After some discussion and him reading me the gauges on the dash, I realized what had happened is that he ran the battery down on the highway. The ICE already started up, then ran out of gas. Then it reverted back to what little battery power was left and he was running on static at this point. Fortunately, he said there was a gas station just up the road since he had taken an exit from the freeway. He was able to get some gas in the car and it started back up.
Customers driving this car do make an attempt to charge it, especially since it has the CCS fast charge option. Despite that, the reality is, 9 out of 10 customers do wind up using the Rex engine at some point during their rental period. I would not ever buy a BEV version of this car to put on Turo. Maybe the newer ones that have more range might be okay. But not the earlier models. Almost everyone who does rent this car ends up loving it. And thanks to the Rex, nobody has ever been stranded or had severe range anxiety.
The i3 gets rented about 20-25 days out of the month on average, and people rent it usually anywhere from 3 days to 3 weeks at a time.
The 2017 Chevy Volt
Almost everyone that has rented this car has loved it. However, probably 65% of the renters have assumed it was “just another hybrid” and not understood what the plug is for. Even after explaining the benefits of plugging it in, many just flat out told me that it “sounds like a lot of trouble so they will just put gas in it.” Now, granted, a lot of the renters are from out of town and thus do not have any place to charge at their hotel or wherever they are staying. And, I get that. But many others are simply not interested in charging it at all. And thus most of the miles put on this car do end up being gasoline miles. Granted, it is always charged when they pick it up, so they get at least 50 or 60 miles on battery before switching over.
The typical person rents this car for 3 days to a week at max. It gets rented about 5 days out of the month on average.
The 2018 Prius Prime
Much like the Volt, most customers assume this is “just a hybrid.” Only, it’s far worse than with the Volt. I suspect because people see the name “Prius” they just assume it is like any other Prius. They rarely read the description. And thus, I can say that in this case about 90% of the customers just drive it on gasoline only. And even the ones that do charge it still wind up using gas most of the time. Of course, I always have it charged when they pick it up, so they get the first 25 miles on EV mode.
Having said that, I can honestly say that of all my cars, the Prius Prime is the one that people are always happy with. They absolutely love the car. I’ve never had a single person complain about anything, not even the slow acceleration. They love how comfortable it is, how well it drives, and how great the visibility is.
The Prius gets rented usually for long periods. Nearly everyone that has rented it has had it for at least a week. I’ve had two different customers rent it for a month. One guy rented it for 6 weeks straight. On average, it is rented out 20 days out of the month.
The Tesla Model 3
This is the newest addition to my fleet. I’ve only been renting it for a few weeks now, so I don’t have a lot of feedback. One thing I can say is that the better EV range means that most people haven’t even had to charge it while renting it. My Model 3 is the long-range model, so it has 310 miles of EV range. Although I typically have it set to charge to 90% so that it has about 280 miles of range when they pick it up. I did have one guy return it with 30 miles remaining, though. He had been charging it at home on 120V, but he was doing so much driving with it, that it barely helped.
Most of the people that have rented this car so far are people who are in the market to buy one and want to try it out for a day or two. So, they tend to have already done their research on the car. They obviously know it isn’t a gas car or a hybrid. They have also been on average much more intelligent than many of the people that have rented my other cars. The downside is that most of the people that rent this car are only renting it for 1 or 2 days. I also suspect my rental price of $150 a day probably contributes to both of these factors.
One annoyance has been the lack of a key-fob. And while there is one available now. I, haven’t managed to get one yet. So my renters have to use the RFID card to get into the car and start it. Of course, they understand how it is supposed to work so it usually isn’t a big deal.
While I don’t have many renters stacked up yet for good data, so far everyone has been thrilled with the car.
Well, if any of you have ever worked in the IT field or some sort of tech support or retail environment then you probably have an idea of just how ignorant “the average person” can be. And while EVs and charging seem like a pretty simple concept to most of us on this site, the reality is it is really challenging and downright mystifying to about 50% of the population. This bares out in my experience dealing with these renters. Actually, it may be worse than that because there’s probably a bunch of people that are too ignorant to even figure out how to use a car rental service like Turo in the first place. After all, I know a lot of older people that refuse to use Uber (even though it would make their lives much easier) because they say it is too complicated.
I do Turo mostly as a hobby. I make just about enough money to cover the cost of the payments on these cars. Maybe one day when they are all paid for, then I’ll reap the rewards. But at the moment I feel like I’m trying to help the EV movement in my local area. However, if I did this for a job to make a living, I would have a hard time justifying EVs. That is, at least BEVs. The PHEVs I rent out like the Volt, and the Prius Prime are the most trouble-free experiences for me and my renters. It does raise an eyebrow as to how car salesmen and car dealerships feel about selling EVs. I can only imagine how difficult it is to deal with them compared to selling a gas powered car. And while it annoys me to no end that dealers often steer people away from EVs, I do at least understand first hand why they do it. They have to make money and keep the payroll coming in and the lights on. If you want to blame somebody, I’d blame the general public for being so ignorant, stubborn, and unwilling to learn.
So, that being the case, I still feel that for the foreseeable future, the PHEV is really the best option for getting a gas driver converted to an EV driver. Myself, I think I’d be happy with a pure BEV as long as the range was 120 miles or more. But ironically, I just don’t feel the general public is ready. People want to just drive the car and they don’t want to plan ahead to where they are going to be charging it. They figure they will charge it when it gets low, much like they fill their gas tank when it gets low. This is a serious paradigm to overcome.