This month, Hertz announced plans to rent an electric version of that bane of capitalization-sensitive copy editors everywhere, the tiny Smart fortwo. Hertz will roll the Smart cars out in both its Connect car-sharing service and its regular car rental locations in New York City, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. The first fortwo EDs (short for electric drive, not the other one) will be available in New York beginning Dec. 15.
Hertz and Smart are claiming the move is all about letting customers experience the guilt-free exhilaration of driving tiny electric cars:
"Hertz's partnership with Smart USA is another strategic element of our long term plan to provide consumers with electric vehicle access on a global scale," said Mark P. Frissora, Hertz Chairman and chief executive officer.
"The Smart fortwo electric drive is the ultimate statement on conservation, from materials to space to natural resources, and further defines the independent spirit of Smart," said Jill Lajdziak, president of Smart USA. "We are thrilled to place vehicles with Hertz and offer consumers the opportunity to experience the joy of driving a Smart fortwo while showcasing the benefits of electric technology."
For Hertz, there will probably be a financial payoff in the form of less money spent on fuel and maintenance, since electric cars typically don't need oil changes and pricey checkups demanded by internal combustion autos. And I imagine Hertz is getting a sweetheart deal on the cars themselves, because Smart is probably betting a lot of drivers will need to actually spend some time in an electric car before they're willing to leap in and buy one.
I'm not sure if the Smart fortwo is the best option to spark a love affair between the driving public and electric cars. It should be fine for local rentals -- Smart pegs the maximum range at 85 miles, and you can't beat a car that can park in half a space in an urban jungle like New York. But the Smart is notoriously cramped, underpowered (0-37 mph in only 6.5 seconds!) and rickety in gas-powered form.
It seems like the mission of electric car manufacturers right now is to show drivers they can have electric without sacrificing the satisfaction that comes with driving a comfortable car. I don't know if the fortwo is the best vehicle to make that case.
What do you think? Would you rent an electric Smart car?