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Hertz wants to turn its airport rental-car lots into EV-charging hubs

The rental-car giant is teaming up with bp pulse to make EV chargers available to Hertz customers, Uber drivers and the general public.
By Jeff St. John

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A row of white cars in a hertz airport parking lot

If you’ve got a lot of EV drivers in one place, it’s bound to be a good spot for EV chargers. One such type of location: airports.

That’s part of the logic behind Tuesday’s announcement from rental car giant Hertz and EV fleet charging operator bp pulse laying out their plan to jointly develop a national network of EV-charging stations.” The stations, which are expected to open in the first half of 2023, will be mostly at airports but also at some city-center locations. The first round of chargers will be for Hertz customers, but the companies plan to add more charging sites for use by ride-share and taxi drivers and later to the general public.

Hertz brings to the partnership its locations across the U.S. and the thousands of EVs it’s offering for rent. Bp pulse — the EV charging arm of the U.K.-based oil major that expanded into the Americas via its acquisition of startup Amply Power last year — will ensure Hertz’s growing fleet of electric rental cars are recharged quickly and efficiently between rentals.”

Hertz announced last year that it plans to buy 100,000 Teslas by the end of this year, and it has upped its EV ambitions this year with plans to buy 65,000 Polestar EVs and 175,000 EVs from General Motors over the next five years. As of July, it had about 20,000 Teslas available for rent across the U.S. and Canada, Hertz CEO Stephen Scherr said during the company’s second-quarter earnings call.

That makes Hertz one of the largest, if not the largest, [EV] fleet operators in the U.S.,” Vic Shao, Amply’s founder and now president of bp pulse’s U.S. fleet division, said in an interview — even if those EVs aren’t being driven by Hertz employees.

Instead, they’re being driven by customers, and not just those on vacation or business travel. Hertz also leases EVs to Uber drivers under a partnership with the ride-share company launched last year.

Scherr said in July’s earnings call that about 15,000 Teslas had been rented to Uber drivers as of this summer, a number the companies intend to grow to as many as 50,000 vehicles. That’s a big part of Uber’s plan to reach zero-emissions mobility by 2030.

Ride-share drivers have a big financial incentive to minimize the time they spend finding and waiting for charging, and the best time for them to charge is when they’re waiting at the airport for their next passenger,” Shao said.

Airports: A good place to build lots of EV charging 

Efficient charging is certainly a factor for Uber’s more than 25,000 EV drivers in the U.S. and Canada, said Adam Gromis, Uber’s global leader on sustainability policy. Uber’s deal with Hertz helps its drivers access EVs at affordable rates starting at $334 per week. But charging is the No. 2 pain point for drivers after vehicle cost,” he said.

Part of the challenge is fitting charging into their work schedules. Uptime is everything for a commercial driver trying to make money,” he said, which means they place a high value on access to fast-charging stations that aren’t out of service or clogged with EVs waiting in line.

Uber has been working with airports, government agencies and EV-charging network providers like EVgo to expand access to charging for its drivers, Gromis said. That work ranges from using data from its Hertz partnership to identify demand for EV chargers in lower-income neighborhoods and communities of color that now lack them, to advising the federal government on how to direct the $7.5 billion in charging infrastructure grants enabled by last year’s infrastructure bill.

Business districts and airports are the two areas where ride-share drivers tend to spend the most time working and looking for charging, Gromis said. Of the two, when we look at our data, airports are the low-hanging fruit” for where new fast-charging supply should go and where it will be best utilized.”

Airports from coast to coast have been adding EV charging. Some have massive goals — Los Angeles International Airport plans to install 1,300 Level 2 chargers and DC fast chargers by the end of next year. Other major U.S. airports are hosting hundreds of Level 2 chargers and installing or planning to install a handful of fast chargers, according to a soon-to-be-released survey by nonprofit decarbonization think tank RMI. (Canary Media is an independent affiliate of RMI.)

Airports are strategic sites for EV charging and fast charging in particular, said Alessandra Carreon, a manager with RMI’s Carbon-Free Mobility program. Beyond serving a large number of arriving and departing vehicles, they can provide affordable charging to residents of adjacent lower-income communities considered charging deserts” as they have little or no charging available, she noted. A number of airports have started playing this role, according to RMI’s survey.

An air-traffic-control system for EV charging 

Hertz’s commitment to EVs far outstrips rival rental-car companies’ thinly detailed electrification plans to date. But industry analysts have warned that Hertz risks alienating its EV-driving customers if it can’t expand access to convenient charging.

Hertz currently has more than 1,600 Level 2 chargers installed globally at its facilities, available for use by its customers, Jeff Niemen, the company’s senior vice president of operations initiatives, said in an email. That number is poised to grow quickly. By year’s end, Hertz plans to have about 3,000 chargers installed just in the U.S., across some 80 markets. Bp pulse has already begun installing chargers at 25 Hertz locations in the U.S.

Hertz isn’t the only company looking to set up charging hubs at airports and in city centers. These locations are also hot commodities for firms offering EV charging as a service or making EV fleets available for rent since they’re often central to a region’s logistics and commercial corridors. Both types of sites also tend to have limits on space and electric grid capacity available for megawatt-scale charging. This is where bp pulse can help smooth the way.

Prior to its acquisition by BP, Amply had focused on charging fleets of electric buses and commercial trucks, with active projects across 17 states. Those vehicles tend to follow set schedules, as opposed to the mix of travelers, ride-share drivers and the general public that Hertz intends to serve.

But reliability, availability and making sure the vehicle is going out the door charged is a common theme, whether it’s a bus, or truck, or light-duty EV,” Shao said. That is what you’re solving for, and you need to have a basic set of operating design features. You need redundancy — a mix of Level 2 and DC fast chargers. You need a design and layout of the charging area so that there’s traffic flow, so you don’t get blocked if the car in front isn’t done charging.”

Hertz car-rental sites already operate in a highly choreographed dance when you have hundreds of cars and customers coming in and out” and employees cleaning, refueling and running diagnostics on incoming vehicles as quickly as possible, Shao said. EVs add an extra step of making sure there’s an acceptable state of charge before you hand it off to the next customer.”

Beyond managing the engineering and construction of charging sites, bp pulse tracks electricity prices and constraints throughout the day to manage the costs of drawing power from the grid. It also integrates with charging stations and EV telematics systems to track charging rates, EV battery states of charge and other important data.

That technology can be adapted to figure out how best to accommodate EVs that aren’t owned by Hertz, Shao noted. Opening up its new charging sites to the general EV-driving public should bring in more paying customers and help Hertz pay back the costs of deploying chargers more quickly — a major issue for companies bankrolling EV-charging deployments at this early stage of growth.

Hertz’s forthcoming charging stations could also help expand charging access in cities and states with aggressive vehicle-electrification goals. Infrastructure is the No. 1 barrier for an EV fleet to scale up,” he said. Drivers need to have a certainty of charge.” 

Correction: This article originally stated that the bp pulse branding was introduced after the acquisition of Amply in December 2021. We regret the error.

Jeff St. John is director of news and special projects at Canary Media. He covers innovative grid technologies, rooftop solar and batteries, clean hydrogen, EV charging and more.