Other Electric Options
Two-seaters like GM's EV1 may be fun to drive, but they don't rank high for practicality. Fortunately, manufacturers have come up with a variety of configurations, and EV Rental Cars rents versions of each at two Budget locations in southern California. Here's how they stack up.
• Honda EV Plus This cute hatchback doesn't have quite the pep of the EV1—going from 0 to 60 mph takes 17 seconds—but it does have a 100-mile range per charge and seating for four.
• Ford Ranger EV Though it looks nearly identical to gas-powered pickups, the Ranger EV offers advanced electronics under its hood, including a state-of-the-art nickel-metal-hydride battery pack. Its 1,250-pound payload capacity comes at a price, though: the maximum range is 90 miles.
• Toyota RAV4 EV Toyota's electric version of its popular sport-utility vehicle has a nickel-metal-hydride battery and a maximum range of 125 miles. As the only four-door EV currently available, it easily wins top honors as the best family EV.
What's in the pipeline
Are EV's here to stay?Two alternative "green" technologies could steal the environmental high ground.
• Hybrid vehicles combine a small gasoline-powered engine with the basic elements of an electric system. At peak power loads—when the car is accelerating quickly or climbing hills—the systems work together. At lower levels, the gas motor powers the wheels and recharges the batteries. Toyota plans to introduce its 66-miles-per-gallon Prius hybrid in the United States next year; an as-yet-unnamed Honda could be out even sooner. EV Rental Cars will rent both through Budget.
• Fuel-cell engines operate on an elegant principle: oxygen and hydrogen combine in a chemical reaction that generates electricity and water vapor. The payoff is clean emissions and high efficiency. In practice, though, fuel cells have proven complex and expensive. Several major manufacturers are working on models, but don't expect them at dealerships for at least three years.
Rental-Car News & Notes
Budget is pushing the boundaries on other frontiers as well. Since June, renters have been able to bid for deals—it's the first time an agency has joined the on-line auction frenzy. After logging on to www.drivebudget.com, you input your desired dates, location, car type, and price. You'll get an E-mail response within 24 hours. • With Hertz's new toll-free help line for customers on the road in Europe, you can access information on weather, tipping etiquette, and local holidays (along with roadside assistance and help finding a Hertz location). • In London, Avis Prestige Cars (800/331-1084) is offering 24 luxury models. You will be guaranteed your requested make and model within 24 hours of your reservation. Before you go planning a trans-European drive in that Porsche Boxster Tiptronic ($385 per day), however, note that the cars may not be taken out of the U.K.