We just came back from a few weeks in Sicily where we had to rent a car to get around. Forget about buses or even electric buses (now rolling out of Amsterdam thanks to Egged). I was waiting at the counter in Palermo for an hour to pick up my car reserved online when the clerk tells me I can’t drive in Italy with a Canadian license. What? She said that an Israeli one, considered part of Europe (see grant schemes), would do. So here I am stuck on a large island, heading to a villa in the middle of a hamlet somewhere (I swapped houses with an Italian family then at home in Israel), without a car. I wrangle my way into the line at Avis and Hertz and an hour and a half later I have a car. The American company loved my Canadian driver’s license as much as I did. Yes!
So after 2.5 hours at an airport with kids out of control crazy waiting for a car … at that point I did not care if they rented me a tractor that ran on tar. I needed a car, any car, to get along and around with my mother and kids. Size was a concern (no wide SUVs for narrow Italian side streets) so we managed to upgrade to a Peugeot station wagon — narrow and long. But you should have seen me just before I had the car keys in my hand. I felt windswept and frostbitten like one of Farley Mowat’s characters from Two Against the North — two young men struggling to survive the harsh Canadian winters after canoeing into unknown waters.
Dare I ask to make the car electric or hybrid? No way would I risk losing that envelope and key inside it for an extravagant request. When in survival mode, I take what’s available. Stick shift, diesel. No problem. Environmental cars are still a luxury item for the rich and famous.
One day a few years ago I found myself in the underground parking lot of Jay Z and Beyonce. My friend lives below them in NYC. And guess what I saw? A fleet of luxury cars, with the most prized of them all, a Tesla which had just come out (and no, you can’t find one here in Israel, but you can in other parts of the Middle East, in ultra-luxury car centers, like at a car rental in Dubai. Dubai is also home to people who own gold-plated cars like this Bentley! — and it’s where you can rent an electric car along with a Lamborghini or Benz.
But what if renting eco or green cars to get around could be easier? Israel has a fairly successful franchise of non-electric fleet cars called Car2Go where you can take one for a few hours to IKEA and back (let’s face it, why else do Tel Avivians need to leave the city?) or maybe to pick your kid up from school on a day when the bus service doesn’t run. But that and even all the local scooters and bikes — these services remain in the hands of the locals or the people who know how to use them. Eldan said they would rent electric cars in 2013, but that flopped with Better Place and their electric car nightmares.
Why is renting an electric car or hybrid car a luxury?
Elon Musk had a good plan with the Tesla. Unlike the Israeli Better Place idea (work with battery swaps) and ugly midline Renault French cars which failed to impress the macho ego of the Middle East, you work with a rod hot body and engine. This way even a steep price of 100K or up won’t hold back buyers, many of which buy the car for the speed rather than for environmental reasons. Environmentalists buy the Prius. The marketing plan for Better Place missed the mark. They were promising prestige and status to people who did not care about the environment. They pre-sold few of their cars and then people were stuck with them, about 2,000 unhappy clients that have no charging stations beyond home to give their cars a boost. So while Israel has plenty of electric buses, the only electric cars that seem to be on the streets are still the Priuses.
When will car renting or sharing options be easier?