Don’t Rent (or Buy) an Electric Vehicle
Guest Post on Sasha Latypova’s Substack
On my recent trip to I made the fateful decision to rent a Kia Nero EV. I was in a rush to book the car for a work trip that would take me out of town for about a month. As I was browsing options on Cheaptickets and dreading the cost of a monthly car rental, I saw that Hertz was offering a 40% discount on electric vehicle (EV) rentals compared to internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, making them look like a compelling option. While I took the plunge to try my first EV, I had a nagging feeling that this would turn out to be a mess…
No Charging Cable Included
I ask the lady at the rental desk if the vehicle comes with a charging cable. She says isn’t sure but I should check the trunk. I check the trunk. No charging cable. I ask the attendant, and he says the cars don’t come with a charging cable. So much for the option of charging the vehicle at a private residence, where I’ll be staying for the next four weeks. For a moment I think about returning the vehicle, but say ____ it, let’s go with it and see how much these vehicles really suck… Nothing like having a direct ‘lived experience’ with an EV.
What a Charging Cable Would Have Looked Like (If Included)
Without a charging cable, I really need to watch my range. I start the car and glance at the range, it shows 260 miles on the dashboard. Ouch. That really is a lot less than the 350 miles that I’ve been hearing in the media. But it really is a lot worse than that. The vehicle charges shockingly slowly for the first 20% as well as the last 80%. In other words, if you are in a situation where you have to use a charging network (and not do overnight residential charging) you really can’t use 40% of the battery. That leaves you with 60% or about 150 miles. But we have been told that there is a lot more charging infrastructure, so how bad can it really be.
Lots of Slow Charging
I go to the house from the airport and now the range has dropped from 260 to 240 miles. I go to work, have lunch, run some errands, go back to work, and get back to the house. We are now at 180 miles (really at 130 miles if you take into account that first 20% takes forever to charge). For my Toyota Rav4 Hybrid, we would be well below half tank at this point (over 500-mile range). I figure that we need to start thinking about charging. I find out that there are several different apps and charging networks. I try to figure out which is closest and head to it. It’s been sponsored by NY State (your tax dollars at work) and I find an open slot. A regular fill-up would take five minutes. I figure I will go to the coffee shop and do emails for an hour. These things should work like a cell phone. An hour to get from 50% to 100%. I get back, and my range has increased by around 20 miles. I break out laughing… This is much worse than I thought. And they want to have all of us drive EVs. Nuts.
I’ve heard of fast charging. So maybe I just picked the wrong charging station. That being said, who in their right mind would think that an hour to get 20 miles would make any sense. No wonder the charging station was empty. And, of course, it’s government sponsored because the business case can’t make any sense. OK, let’s find me some fast charging. I pull out the app and select fast charging. Interesting, this network has a fast-charging station about 150 miles away. But no, for two reasons. First, I don’t have enough range to get there. Second, I would lose pretty much all of my range driving back. I laugh some more… OK, let’s check another network. I download an app, register, and provide my credit card information. This one has one fast-charging station within a 200-mile radius. It’s about 20 miles away. I’m in a MSA with a population of 1.1 million in a very blue state with one (maybe two) fast charging stations.
At this point I figure that my problems are solved but I will definitely not recommend renting an EV. I get to the fast-charging station. It’s busy. There are only two spots. The NY State sponsored one had many more spots. But of course. The two other cars look like rentals. Someone is sleeping in one of them. How fast can fast charging be if you have to sleep while the vehicle charges. We are in a shopping plaza. I park nearby and wait for my turn. One of the cars leaves about half an hour later. I plug in and hear a large humming sound. It seems that these things need some big-time electricity to charge fast and probably a lot of expense to go along with it. Maybe that’s why there are not a lot of fast charging stations. I go to Barnes and Noble for a coffee and do some more emails for another hour. I get back and the range has increased by 60 miles to 210 miles. No wonder the other guy was sleeping. And no wonder Hertz was running a 40% discount.
Expense of Fast Charging
I’m not pissed. I suspected that there were issues with EVs. They are worse than I thought. I feel vindicated and want to dig a little deeper. I go back to Barnes and Noble for another hour. What did I just pay for the 60 miles of range. The app says $9.05. My Rav4 gets 40 miles to the gallon and this Northeast State charges $3.79 per gallon. A bit of math later, I figure I just paid $6.03 for a gallon of gas, i.e. same or even more than one pays in California for gas.
Here is a good calculation of true costs of charging an electric vehicle, source.
The range on my Rav4 Hybrid is over 500 miles (actual) and I can fill it up in less than 5 mins, anywhere, any time and I’m not doubling my gas price (assuming use of fast charging for rentals). I get back an hour later and my range has only increased by 30 miles. How’s that possible? The previous hour gave me 60 miles. This is when I discover that once I’m at 80% battery capacity, the charging is dramatically slowed down (to protect the delicate battery).
One final note, apparently the problems with EVs are not quite as bad with Teslas. Their range is greater and their fast-charging networks are denser and apparently faster. However, non-Teslas are a complete non-starter for rentals (and perhaps for other use cases). And most major brands seem to be selling vehicles that are in no way ready for prime time. A great recent example of this realization is the 50% plunge in sales of the Ford F-150 Lightning EV which has resulted in the suspension of an entire manufacturing shift. In case you are curious, if you are towing with an F-150, the range is 150 miles. If the same ‘speed-of-charging’ math works on a road trip, you are limited to 60% of battery capacity for very fast charging. That would take your range to 90 miles. Not sure there are fast chargers linked every 90 miles. Perhaps you could look manly and use it for just grocery runs hoping no-one realizes that you are a dunce.