Orlando's Newest Tourist Bonus: Electric Cars

Want to visit Walt Disney World in a Nissan Leaf? A new initiative is bringing a fleet of electric rentals to Orlando tourists, all for the price of a standard car.

The tourist city of Orlando is now home to America's first major electric-car rental program. Drive Electric Orlando is a partnership between the city of Orlando, area theme parks, area hotels, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, travel firm Sabre Holdings, and the Electrification Commission, an industry advocacy group. Through the partnership, tourists (and locals) can rent fully electrified Nissan Leaf cars, receive a short primer on how they work and what the differences are from conventional vehicles, and gain access to local charging stations. Enterprise will start with a fleet of 15 Nissan Leaf cars, and the Orlando Sentinel's Sara K. Clarke reports that Chevy Volts will be added. The car rental giant will offer the electric cars at the same price as a standard, full-size vehicle.

In a statement, Electrification Coalition CEO Robbie Diamond said that "with more than 57 million visitors annually and one of the largest charging networks in the country, Orlando is the ideal location for the Drive Electric project.… Where better to introduce Americans to the electric car than North America’s leading travel destination and the world’s largest rental-car market?" The Electrification Coalition is a lobbying and advocacy group for stakeholders in the electric transportation industry. By pushing electric-car rentals in Orlando, the organization is intentionally targeting tourists--and the short hops between area attractions like Walt Disney World and Universal Studios is perfect for car battery range.

For participants, the big challenge will be navigating the imperfect electric-vehicle grid. While many attractions and hotels have committed to making electric rechargers freely available, others haven't--paying to recharge electric cars can easily become as unpleasant as paying for gas. In addition, the fact that only 15 cars are initially involved in the program means that many more customers will be steered toward more conventional hybrid cars instead.

[Image: Nissan]

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  • Anthony Reardon

    Very interesting...and kind of perplexing too.

    I've been tuning in to Orlando for its promotional initiatives for a while. I think they are leading the way in competing on a geographic niche basis. While this obviously corresponds to vestment in their particular tourism infrastructure, I think other areas are beginning to explore the benefits of external promotion to attract economic development as well. Orlando has come up in some commercials I have seen recently outside the state, and I also noted a new airline partnership at my city's airport specifically for flying to and from Orlando. In that context, this article caught my attention.

    Somehow, I guess something is left to be desired here though. I think I can start with the assertion that electric car rental is a tourist bonus- I find that to be kind of a dubious proposition. After all, do you think more people would travel to some destination specifically because they could rent electric? I'm not so sure the value matches the promotional initiative, and that right there raises a flag.

    Personally, of course I like the general idea, and it's nice to see the enhanced cooperation and infrastructure in place to support the electric car experience. Looking at the charging station map on Drive Electric Orlando's site, I found it interesting to zoom out and learn a bit more about the current state of the infrastructure around the U.S.

    So looking at their site, I just couldn't help but reflect on the effort in suggesting the value of driving electric. Yes, the environmental cause is there, but I almost think that should go without saying as soon as you mention electric. To upsell that value seems like an overcompensation for other shortcomings. The same goes for the impact on foreign energy dependence. Both are desirable, but I wondered why you would have to reiterate the connection to electric cars. For instance, are they really driving selling points that would attract more travelers to an area, to rent electric cars over alternatives, or even to purchase such cars?

    Well, if you look at the partnerships behind this program, I think you get a better picture. The Electrification Coalition is really interesting when you look at their members consisting of various industry leaders. The glaring omission is the absence of Elon Musk from Tesla Motors. They also have a very interesting featured report on State of the Plug-In Electric Vehicle Market I recommend checking out.

    A few takeaway points I gathered. It seems clear this initiative is intended to help address "range anxiety" at the consumer level, but I think has more to do with the broader industry investment level and politics. The given scenario paints a pretty picture of a workaround that can make it work when you bring together government, business, and consumers in a closely cooperating relationship. Besides destination rentals, located fleets also make sense for market penetration. It's interesting to see Enterprise point the rental cost as the same, but through this partnership promote the ancillary savings and benefits outside the scope of their direct control. It's a dynamic challenge to try to educate consumers on the value of saving money on gas, added-value perks, and the overall facilitated experience despite limitations.  

    At the end of the day, I just couldn't help but feel the "plugging" comes out of some kind of sense of desperation. You hear about Musk driving cross country and know he's making a statement about range anxiety too, but then I don't think that's coming from a sense of desperation as much as a boldness. Take a look at that featured report, and the highlights all seem to refer to the Tesla S. Yet if you look back at the trend in the industry, you see a lot of stakeholders invested in Nissans and Chevy's that perhaps are scrambling. They point out the Tesla is specifically in the luxury category, the cost of batteries is going to go down in half over the next ten years, and of course all the industry advocation they are doing to make it work. Yet, what most stood out to me was seeing their market penetration meet new heights, and then a few years ago Tesla enters their graph and suddenly grabs a massive portion of their market share while accounting for probably a majority of new business growth.

    Best, Anthony