High Price of Being a 'Green' Business Traveler

High Price of Being a 'Green' Business Traveler
I just returned from attending the Governor’s Global Climate Summit in Los Angeles, California where I served as a delegate for the National Wildlife Federation. The event, hosted by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, consisted of three days of discussions and presentations aimed at encouraging subnational leadership and collaboration to create policy to effectively address climate change issues on an international level. Attendees included Tony Blair, Jane Goodall, David Paterson, Tom Friedman, many United Nations’ officials and international participants.

While attending a breakout session called “Emerging Technologies: Getting Low carbon Vehicles On the Road”, it made we wonder. How many rental car companies offer hybrid vehicles to its consumers? So I decided to investigate.

Personally, I have not had very good luck with renting hybrids while traveling. For the most part, when I travel, if I need to rent a car it is because I bring multiple suitcases of evidence or documentation. So, a large SUV or a minivan is usually in order. Not good for fuel efficiency or hybrid options.

Still, it sparks the question: Where can I get a hybrid on my next business trip? And what are my options? Sadly, there aren’t many, even if it’s just you and a carry-on bag traveling. Rental car companies are plagued with what I think are two issues preventing them from offering eco-friendly options for business travelers. First, rental car companies compete with us, the consumers, in obtaining these cars for their fleets. Second, the demand is not very high as we, as a nation, have a love affair with the combustible engine.

To learn more, I did a quick search of three major rental car companies for a hypothetical trip October 19 – 22, 2009 in the following cities: Seattle, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York (JFK) and Atlanta. I chose airport sites only, and attempted to reserve two-weeks before my trip; not last minute, but not months in advance either. Here is what I came up with as far as availability.

Hertz has a specific “green collection” it offers to its customers. It consists of hybrids and fuel efficient gas powered vehicles. It goes without saying from the outset, that Hertz is one of the most expensive car rental companies out there, yet, prices get better with certain memberships. Hybrids were available in Seattle (Prius $123.49/day), Los Angeles (Prius $100.49/day - Altima $90.49/day), New York (Prius $83.00/day), and Atlanta (Prius $112.00/day – Altima $118.14/per day). Chicago offered hybrids, but none were available during these dates with two weeks advanced notice. Comparatively speaking, the smaller compact traditional non-hybrids were better priced.

No hybrids were available online in Seattle, Los Angeles, New York (JFK or LaGuardia), or Atlanta for my hypothetical trip in October. Things look promising in Chicago with a Ford Escape Hybrid available. However, it was listed as a “Cool Car”, as in hip, so it was also priced $200 more (total) for reservation dates than the intermediate class vehicle they offered. Sadly, I don’t think this is an economical option for business travelers. Incidentally, the Hummer H3 was also listed as a “cool car”. The mind boggles a bit trying to sort that one out.

Enterprise has the Largest Fleet of Hybrids
Enterprise boasts the largest fleet of hybrids amongst its competitors, however, when I tried to reserve one online I found that they were not available in all cities advertised. It’s not completely clear how their hybrid reservations work, but a local telephone number was listed to call to reserve where online reservations were not an option for the hybrids listed.

Rent Directly from Toyota?
There is another option available for renting a hybrid. Toyota Rent a Car is a dealer-run car rental option allowing you to rent not only hybrids, but the latest Toyota models. Roadside assistance is offered too. You will likely need to provide your own transportation to and from the airport to a participating dealership in your destination city. Visit Toyota Rent a Car for more information and participating dealerships. With the personable service many dealerships offer, you may be able to negotiate airport transport into the price of your rental, although I have no personal experience with doing so.

Overall, I wish I could walk away from this exercise feeling more content with the state of hybrid technology available to the business traveler, but I don’t. Still, I like to remain optimistic and hope that consumer demand will increase. Such demand is likely the only stimulus to which the rental car industry will respond, and the stimulus the industry will have to contend with as younger generations become consumers of rental vehicles.

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