With so many new drivers hitting the roads every year, it becomes increasingly more important to consider our environment and the impacts we make. Air pollution in the United States comes from many types of engines, industries, and commercial operations. Pollution sources that move are known as “mobile sources.” These sources include vehicles, engines, and motorized equipment that produce exhaust and evaporative emissions (Office of Transportation and Air Quality, 2012).
The major concern about air pollution is global warming. This is when gases like carbon dioxide, found in vehicle exhaust, get trapped in the atmosphere and cause our planet to retain more heat from the Sun than normal. Global warming endangers our health, jeopardizes our national security, and threatens other basic human needs. Some impacts, such as record high temperatures, rising seas, and severe flooding and droughts, are already increasingly common (Union of Concerned Scientists, 2014).
In order to combat air pollution, several alternative fuel vehicles have been invented, however, these new technologies come at a high price for consumers. Consumers that could afford such vehicles are used to conventional fuel, and are unwilling to purchase a clean solution. As a society, we need a way to introduce a clean future, a way to let all drivers experience operating an alternative fuel vehicle with little cost or risk.
The Rental Car Industry: Proposed Solution
The rental car industry fulfills a huge need for society. When traveling long distances, moving your home, or when you need a vehicle after your own was damaged in an accident, rental car companies provide a solution. One additional service can be provided by this industry, that can and will make a difference for our future. In introducing clean alternative fuel vehicles into rental fleets, consumers can make a positive impact on our environment without paying the high price for ownership. Drivers accustomed to conventional fuel vehicles, will also have the opportunity to experience clean driving, in order to help make a positive first impression without the financial risk involved. Through personal experiences and word of mouth, the rental car industry can introduce a clean future, one rental at a time.
Lotus Rental Car, an industry leader, has rental locations across the United States. In several states, low emission vehicles are allowed to utilize better parking locations. In introducing a large variety of new clean vehicles, Lotus can offer customers a rewarding driving experience afforded to few. Alternative fuel vehicles are also very efficient, reducing the travel cost for customers, making Lotus a premium choice for long trips. In order to make the best decision in purchasing new vehicles, it is important to understand the benefits and drawbacks of each type of clean fuel vehicle.
Types of Alternative Fuel Vehicles:
Today, there are numerous alternative fuel vehicles developed and being developed to compete with fossil fuel usage. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, more than a dozen alternative fuels are in production or under development for the use in alternative fuel vehicles and advanced technology vehicles. (U.S. Department of Energy, 2013) Vehicles are being powered by biodiesel, propane, ethanol, hydrogen, natural gas, and electricity. However, the most popular alternative fuel vehicles being used in today’s rental car fleets are hybrid, ethanol, and electric vehicles.
Hybrids have a potential for excellent fuel economy and are capable of running on existing fuel supplies, without any behavioral change. Hybrids (HEVs) are currently more expensive than regular models but over time much of the costs will be recovered through gasoline savings and state incentives. Plug-in-Hybrids (PHEVs) are all electric capable of short commuting distances for many drivers living within most city limit areas. These types of vehicles are equipped with built in recharging stations and conveniently used at home for recharging. HEVs use braking and the combustion engine to recharge the batteries.
Vehicles using ethanol have low emissions, and ethanol fuel is capable of being produced from corn, plant materials, and other waste products. Ethanol also comes in two forms; low ethanol and E85, a higher concentrate blend used in flex fuel vehicles (FFV’s). E85 burning or FFV’s, are readily available throughout the U.S. FFV’s come in from most manufactures and in all models available with over 8 million on the highways today. FFV’s look and drive just like the vehicles on the roads today. FFV’s, when running on the ethanol fuel, will help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over 50% and could help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions up to 85% using cellulosic ethanol.
Electric vehicles (EVs) are propelled by an electric motor (or motors) powered by rechargeable battery packs (www.fueleconomy.gov, 2013). EVs are very energy efficient, as they convert 59-62% of electrical energy, where as conventional gasoline vehicles only convert about 17-21% of energy stored to power the wheels. EVs emit no tailpipe pollutants making them very environmentally friendly.
Disadvantages of Alternative Fuel Vehicles in Fleets:
In the beginning of any new technology there are always negative results. As a result of the insufficient number of alternative fuel vehicles in the nation’s vehicle fleet, owners of gasoline refueling stations are reluctant to provide refueling facilities for them. This causes a problem for any rental car facility that wants to add alternative fuel vehicles to their fleet. The high cost of providing some alternative fuels at existing gasoline stations, reduces station owner’s willingness to provide the facilities. According to statistics released by the United States General Accounting Office (2001), the costs to build facilities that provide compressed natural gas cost about $300,000, significantly more than the cost of refueling stations for gasoline, ethanol, or methanol.
In addition, the scarcity of alternative fuel stations makes it less convenient for alternative drivers, which in turn deters the general public from using alternative fuel vehicles. Consumers renting cars are more likely to want a rental car that is easy to re-fuel, and an alternative fuel vehicle does not appear to fall in this category. The initial cost of an alternative fuel vehicle can cost thousands more than your typical gasoline vehicle. The cost causes rental car fleets to replace their older models and non-fuel efficient vehicles slowly. A normal ratio of alternative fuel vehicles in a rental car fleet is usually one-third of its total. As more developments and advancements are made, there will be lower issues with owning and operating such vehicles.
The main issue with HEV’s and PHEVs right now are the extremely high cost of replacement batteries. This is expected to go down over time with newer and better technology, but as of right now are extremely pricey. Another issue will be the initial expense of the vehicle, which is much higher than the regular models of the same vehicle. Charging the battery of a PHEV can also get expensive as it will be running off your own electric bill to charge, or at a charging station. The reason this is expensive is that the average charging time is approximately 4 – 8 hours, all of which is high usage.
The main disadvantage of ethanol is miles per gallon (MPG). “FFVs operating on E85 usually experience a 25–30% drop in miles per gallon due to ethanol’s lower energy content”. Another issue with FFV’s is many people forget the type of vehicle that they are driving and tend to use gasoline the majority of the time. Also, depending on where you are located throughout the United States, ethanol prices can be cheaper than gasoline or much more expensive. The Midwest is usually where the cheapest ethanol can be found.
The disadvantages with electric vehicles are the significant battery-related challenges. The driving range is 100-200 miles before recharging. Recharge time can take 4 to 8 hours to fully charge. To even charge a battery pack up to 80% capacity it can take 30 minutes. Battery cost is also an issue, with the large battery packs being expensive and they may need to be replaced more than once. The battery packs are also heavy and take up a considerable amount of space.
Advantages and Incentives:
The cost savings from vehicle maintenance, operation, and fuel use typically offset higher purchase prices (U.S. Department of Energy, 2013). One large advantage of placing alternative fuel vehicles into a fleet in Western Colorado, is the abundance of refueling and recharging stations available. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, stations range from Pueblo to Fort Collins, CO (Alternative Fuel Station Locator, 2013). There are 14 fueling stations for ethanol and six recharging stations for electric type vehicles in the Colorado Springs area alone. Customers having these stations readily available are more likely to use these vehicles rather than in other areas where the options are not present. When purchasing and using an alternative fuel vehicle, many tax incentives can be found. The Federal government, combined with the State of Colorado, offers incentives and tax breaks for alternative fuel vehicle purchases and fueling stations.
The federal government states that consumers who qualify under the Title 26 U.S. Code 30c and 38, that purchase fueling equipment for electricity and E85 that is installed before December 31, 2013, are eligible for a tax credit of 30% of the cost, not to exceed $30,000. Fueling station owners who install qualified equipment at multiple sites are allowed to use the credit towards each location (U.S. Government Printing Office, 2013). Colorado offers other tax exemptions and grants. One tax exemption is an alternative fuel, advanced vehicle, and idle reduction technology tax credit from the Colorado Department of Revenue for a motor vehicle titled and registered in Colorado that uses or is converted to an alternative fuel or is a hybrid electric vehicle. Another incentive is the ethanol infrastructure grant that provides up to $5,000 for each qualified station dispensing mid-level ethanol blends.
HEVs are available in light, medium, and heavy duty vehicles, so consumers have a great overall selection. Another advantages for hybrids is improved fuel economy, where a person should add anywhere from 10 to 30 miles per gallon. Energy security will help to reduce dependency of fossil fuels over the life time of these vehicles, lowering the overall fuel costs a person will have during the ownership of the vehicle. The last major advantage of these types of vehicles will be the lowering of emissions.
An advantage of ethanol, is gasoline has low amounts of ethanol so it can be found easily at any gas station. FFV’s look like all of today’s modern vehicles, which make it easier for people to rent this type of vehicle, due to the fact they are not looking at a box type car or something that looks unsafe for a family. Another main advantage for Lotus to buy and rent these types of vehicles here in Colorado, would be the easy access to low amount ethanol with thousands of stations easily available, or over 70 stations selling E85. The majority are on the two major interstates running through the state. Locally in Colorado Springs, there are over 10 stations that sell E85, making it easy access when returning the vehicle.
The electric motors provide performance benefits. They are quiet and smooth operating. The motors have stronger acceleration and requires less maintenance than internal combustion engines. Electricity being a domestic energy source reduces energy dependence. Lastly, electric vehicles produce no emissions, making this type of vehicle the future for environmental safety.
In conclusion, adding alternative fuel type vehicles to your rental fleet will at first be an expansive expenditure. After time however, Lotus rental should start seeing benefits by adding these types of vehicles to its fleet. Numerous people are starting to look for these vehicles while traveling and conducting business trips. By adding these vehicles to your inventory you will be opening your company up to more variety of clientele. Alternative type vehicles do have some disadvantages as talked about previously, but these are slight compared to the advantages of owning and renting these vehicles. The clients will see better fuel economy, cheaper fuel charges, and helping with the countries overall emissions problems.
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