Challenge and Response
I'm writing to vent about the disservice Budget's EV rental operation at LAX is doing to the reputation of EVs.
Yesterday I made a special trip to LAX to rent an EV-1 before GM pulls them off the road. As an auto industry marketing guy who wants to get into the EV side, I really wanted a chance to see what these cars were like before the only place left to see one is in the Smithsonian. My 68 year old mother is her visiting and I convinced her that they were real cars... that we could hit some of her downtown art museums and make it back to Long Beach easily on a single charge. She was skeptical and I muttered this and that about her being stuck in the Pleistocene.
The rental gal gave us a cheery overview of the car, showed us a handy binder listing local recharge locations, pointed out the 82 mile range the batteries were charged to, and sent us on our way. The car was sweet. It handled nicely, had a quiet, techie sounding whine instead of a rumble, jumped hard when I punched it once or twice and had cool looks with easy and intuitive gauges and controls.
About 4 or 5 mile out, I noticed the range seemed to have dropped by about 10 miles. Hmm, probably just something to do with the initial start up and getting underway, I thought, and made sure to take it as easy as possible to conserve energy .
"Mom" I pontificated, "did you know that 100 years ago a third of all vehicles were EVs, and in another 100 years they'll all be EVs?" As we continued on the freeway towards downtown L.A. I tried to downplay in my mind the continual 2:1 drop in range.
Finally my Mom piped up "are we going to be able to make it back, the batteries seem to be going down a lot".
When we hit the surface streets we stopped and looked up a charging station near the museum we were headed for. "No problem" I said, confident in the cutting-edge technology of this EV wonder car. "We'll just plug it in for a few hours while we're here. That'll top off the charge and we'll be fine."
After leaving the second defunct charging location I dropped off Mom at the Modern Art Museum and continued my search. The short story is that the day became an exercise in frustration as I visited a half dozen non-functioning or non-existent charging stations. I tried to swap the car, now with 11 miles left on the meter for a real car at a local Budget office but was told that they were all closed at 4:00 PM on a Saturday.
We ended up fighting over what to do and eventually riding with the tow truck driver who hauled the decrepit car back to LAX. Along the way he told us he had often had to tow EV-1s back to Budget.
We demanded and got a full refund but I am now considering the wisdom of getting into the EV field and my mother will never again be caught dead in anything that plugs in. I realize that the car is only partially at fault. With a good battery pack and a gauge that accurately computed range with weakened batteries, we would have been OK.
I blame Budget for sending out cars they must have known had weak batteries and a misleading gauge. We weren't the first to have this problem and they must have been aware of it. I don't expect them to invest thousands in new batteries when the car is about to be pulled but they shouldn't be screwing customers and the credibility of electric vehicle technology!
Long Beach, CA
I am sorry to hear about your unpleasant experience with the GM EV1. Perhaps my response will help bring some clarity to your ordeal. I am sure that I cannot make up for your lost time or trouble with your mother's visit.
The car you drove is not defective. The range indicator provides a projection based on how you most recently have driven it. When you accelerate quickly, use the heater or AC, or drive on hills, you consume more power, and the range indicator will show a fast decline. The car you drove was driven quite cautiously before you drove it, and the range indicator was showing somewhat on the high side.
More disappointing is the inadequacy of the charging infrastructure. I am told that LA City Hall security would not let you charge there, and that another location was broken. EV Rental Cars has supported the development of the charging infrastructure in So Cal by getting chargers installed in hotels and other public places.
Unfortunately, we do not own the chargers or the locations, and there is no central source to verify the operational status of the charging network anymore. GM and Toyota were investing in upgrading the charging infrastructure when GM initiated its lawsuit against the state and the state responded by making a different charging standard the approved technology. Ultimately they stopped this investment and we have what you witnessed. In downtown LA, DWP headquarters is a reliable location, and I am disappointed that you could not reach it and that City Hall staff was so unwelcoming.
Our rental program has successfully provided thousands of rentals of electric cars, but to do so we rely on the public charging infrastructure and upfront training by our staff about the technology. Now, as electrics fade from the scene due to political failings, the infrastructure is not what it used to be. By example, of the ten chargers at my LAX lot, only one is currently operable.
I wish your first ride in the EV1 could have been more pleasant. I would invite you to have another try (for free) so that your last ride will be. By scouting the chargers in advance, I can guarantee a successful trip. We will only have EVs for three more weeks, so I hope we can accommodate you within that time.
My regrets and best wishes,
EV Rental Cars
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