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July 28, 2008
Volume 86, Number 30
p. 248

In search of fuel-efficient rental cars

During a business trip to Colorado Springs last month, I arrived at the counter of Budget car rental expecting to pick up the economy-sized vehicle I reserved weeks ago.

Linda Wang/C&EN
Gas-Guzzler: My Toyota Highlander.

To my surprise and then dismay, the only cars available were pick-up trucks, minivans, and SUVs. Last year, renters would have been overjoyed by the prospect of getting a free upgrade. Not this year, with gas prices through the roof.

I expressed my frustration to the woman behind the counter, canceled my reservation, and dragged my luggage over to the next counter, which happened to be Avis. No luck there, either, and this was on a tranquil Tuesday afternoon. Of the half-dozen or so car rental companies inside Colorado Springs Airport, not one of them could offer me an economy-sized vehicle.

I wasn’t just worried about the fewer miles I would get per gallon, I was in fact scared out of my mind because I had never driven anything larger than the Pontiac Grand Am I own back home. Realizing what few options I had, I settled on a gas-guzzling Toyota Highlander from Thrifty.

My experience is not unusual. A friend of mine recently told me that he encountered a similar situation at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. His reservation for a compact car actually got him a larger Honda SUV.


All over the country, car rental companies are seeing customers pass up big cars for hybrids and other more FUEL-EFFICIENT CARS, and that is affecting the companies’ ability to keep up with demand.

In a July 8 article on Earthfirst.com, Stephanie Rogers examines the efforts of the major car rental companies to modify their fleets to include cars with better mileage.

Since 2006, Hertz has offered its customers a Green Collection, which includes the Toyota Prius (a hybrid), Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, and Toyota Corolla. All of these cars have a fuel efficiency rating of at least 28 mpg and are available at 50 major airport locations across the U.S. By the end of the summer, Hertz will add an additional 3,500 hybrids to its Green Collection, which currently numbers 35,000 vehicles.

Additionally, Avis has expanded its fleet to include the hybrids Toyota Prius, Nissan Altima, and Ford Escape. Avis’ hybrid fleet numbers 2,500 out of 375,000 total vehicles. Thrifty and Dollar are working on building their small collection of hybrid and biofuel-friendly vehicles, as well.

Enterprise (and its sister brands, Alamo and National) leads the pack with roughly 5,000 hybrids and 73,000 flex vehicles, which run on a blend of ethanol and regular gas, out of 440,000 total cars.

In April, Enterprise opened four “green” branches in Atlanta, where the company has a fleet of 4,000 hybrids and other fuel-efficient cars. In Portland, Ore., Enterprise has five biodiesel vehicles available for rent. In addition, the company has pledged to plant 50 million trees in national forests all over the country to offset its rental fleet’s carbon emissions.

If you’re lucky, you might be able to rent one of these cars for your next trip. As for me, I discovered that I enjoy driving a bigger car, especially when someone else is paying for the gas.

This week's column was written by Linda Wang. Please send comments and suggestions to newscripts@acs.org.

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Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2009 American Chemical Society


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