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17 August 2007
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Open Letter to Rental Car Companies
With Hybrid Fleets

Scott Griffith, Chief Executive, Zipcar
Mark Norman, Chief Executive, Flexcar
Roo Rogers, Founder, OZOcar
Pat Farrell, Spokesman, Enterprise Rent-A-Car
John Barrows, Spokesman, Avis

Gentlefolk!

Getting to the weekend New York Times a little late as I usually do, I found an interesting article by Barry Rehfeld discussing the growing trend of making hybrid vehicles such as the Prius available for temporary use by renters or even as a car service.  I also found your names in the article, which makes my life simple since, as regular readers of my blog know, I'm not all that keen on "research."  I thought I'd take this opportunity to let you know about a feature of your fleet of hybrids, one that you possibly might not have considered, that might be of commercial or personal interest.  If you take up the suggestion I offer, it will also provide the opportunity to publicize your enterprise in an entirely different and advantageous way.

I've owned a Prius for over two years now, and I love it.  While I'm pleased with all the environmental and gasoline-expense benefits that it brings, I bought it for a special reason: its multi-kilowatt electrical generating capability.  As I was reading about the car, I had the sudden realization that it could be used not only for transportation, but for emergency power as well.  This led to what I call my "PriUPS" project, in which I use the car to power my house during an electric power failure.  I live in the suburbs and typically experience several failures per year.  Although they are less common in the cities in which your rentals are typically located, emergency power is still occasionally required.

What if, in addition to offering hybrid car rentals, you could also offer to rent emergency power along with its transportation to the scene where the power is needed? 

Business Opportunity

Imagine your company's hybrid on the scene of a (hopefully local) utility outage, providing power for refrigerators, sump pumps, and emergency equipment.  Or offering to your customers or members not just a car for a few hours or days, but also portable electricity on the same basis.  I am only one person and have this capability for myself alone.  Your fleets have thousands of Prii and you can not only be of great help in emergencies, but also help publicize the utility of this scheme and the value of hybrids.  Needless to say, each instance will be a publicity boon for your company as well!

The Details

The PriUPS web site has abundant information on what's involved in doing this.  I'll save you and my regular readers from a rehash and provide just the briefest outline here:

For each hybrid that you want to be in the program, you will need to provide an electrical connector to the hybrid system.  This is a fast and very inexpensive modification.  The cost for materials will be perhaps $10, and require well under an hour of a mechanic's time once he's practiced.  (Logistically, it will probably be better to add this to all the cars, since it's so much less expensive than keeping track of which have it.)

You can then provide a UPS or inverter that will take the power from the car and turn it into several kilowatts of ordinary household electricity.  While doing this for one car as I did requires a lot of head scratching and planning, replicating the setup for a fleet simply requires finding a vendor for multiple systems or, if your fleet is a small one, finding an in-house electrical guru to take on the project.

Why Am I Suggesting This?

To begin with, I've already gotten a blogitem and another chance to tout my PriUPS project to people who might be unfamiliar with it.  For another, I get the satisfaction of seeing more than just a tiny handful of folks implementing my grand scheme.  (I have a lot of grand schemes, but many are too grand even for industrial enterprises.)  I feel that using hybrid vehicles in so-called "vehicle to grid (V2G)" applications will be a boon for the country and for its energy-hungry citizens.  Call it patriotism if you wish.

That's it!  Take a look at my web site if you have the time.  Even if you don't, tuck into your brain the notion "hybrids can provide electricity as well as transportation."  OK?  Thanks for reading.

Yours truly,

Richard Factor


NP:  "Pinball Wizard" - The Who

2007
Richard Factor

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