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Electric Vehicles

Driving a Smart Phone

Background #

The above Smart Driving Cars Podcast features a conversation about the Hertz/Tesla rental experience. It also includes a preview of a tool, developed by Princeton student researchers, for determining the optimum location of on-demand mobility kiosks.

The following are notes from a recent rental of a Tesla Model 3 from Hertz. This is not an in-depth review of either Tesla or Hertz, although there are some ideas on how to improve the rental experience.

It provides first impressions from someone who owns an electric car (a 2015 Nissan Leaf). It may be trite, but a Tesla feels like a computer with a steering wheel. Simply, it is a fun driving experience. It has a learning curve that is more similar to what one would find with a smartphone as compared to a car from a legacy supplier.

As background, our first choice for a rental car was not Hertz or Tesla. We had a package deal that included airfare and car rental. The downside is that everyone else visiting Atlanta seemed to have that deal and the result was a 2.5-hour car rental line. Time was precious on this weekend trip, so we made the decision to look for an alternative.

Fortunately, Hertz Gold came to the rescue as it allowed me to effortlessly reserve a car while in its competitor’s seemingly unending line. Within a few minutes, we were in the car rental garage with a large number of Tesla Model 3s from which to choose.

As it turns out, unlike a traditional gasoline-powered vehicle none of the Model 3s were fully charged. We probably poked our heads in five or six Model 3s before we found one with a 91% charge, which was the most charge we could find.

Again, Quit Battering My Self Esteem

A Charger and the Charged (thanks Fred Fishkin)

The problem was we couldn’t figure out how to turn on these computers on wheels. Fortunately, another first-time Tesla driver had summoned help from Hertz and we followed along with the Hertz employee’s instructions. If he hadn’t shown up, we may have jettisoned our Tesla experiment.

I asked him about charging and I heard “You can bring it back with as little as a 10% charge.” Upon checking out of the garage, we were told we had to bring it back with a 70% charge or else a $35 fee would be added to our bill. This added a little stress, as all weekend we talked about various ways of charging it to prevent such a fee.

  • Of course, there was no charger at the fleabag we stayed in, so that wouldn’t work (finding a cockroach on the hotel bed, as we did, is, by definition, a fleabag).
  • We could plug in at the garage of my sister-in-law’s house, but that was even a little bit too much of a cheapskate move even for me. 
  • Finding a charger was an option, but we didn’t want to take away time from the family.

Then, Sunday morning, when we went to brunch, we spotted a Level 2 charger in the parking garage. Unfortunately, one charger wasn’t working and the other one had some sort of error message that even befuddled my son, who also has a Masters in Computer Science (making me feel better that it just wasn’t my self-esteem being battered by the technology).

We brought back the Model 3 on Sunday evening with approximately a 53% charge with the expectation we would get dinged with a $35 fuel charge. As it turns out, it looks like our fuel cost for 103 miles of driving (from 91% to 53%) was included in the rental for a total cost of $184.63 ($69/day +$46 in airport concession fees – no $35 fuel charge). Happy Days!

Charged for Charging? #

Perhaps there were elements of truth in what both people said about charging for charging. The Hertz blog states that a $35 fee will apply if there is less than a 70% charge upon return. An additional $25 fee shall apply if the battery life is less than 10%. Unlike gasoline, Hertz does not mark up the cost of charging if one charges their rental at a Tesla network station

“If you charge at a Tesla network station, we’ll pass through your charging-related fees to the credit card you used to rent your Tesla.* “

Hertz Blog Post

As of 10:30 EST, 06/21/23, approximately three days after returning the Tesla, Hertz has not added a $35 charge for bringing the car back with less than 70% battery life.

Screenshot from the Hertz Blog

A few notes and impressions about the experience with Hertz and Tesla.

Hertz

  • Hertz Gold is the best. I don’t know why I ever deviate, especially in a time-crunch situation like we were in this weekend. The pick-up and drop-off are such a breeze and probably gave us an extra hour or more with extended family.
  • Access to streaming services (e.g., Spotify, etc.) seems to be behind a paywall, but we didn’t explore long enough to understand the options. Connecting to one’s phone via Bluetooth is an easy alternative to built-in streaming.
  • When renting a Tesla, Hertz should supply a piece of paper explaining how to operate the vehicle with important tips, such as
    • The proper way to open the doors (I kept opening it via the manual latch, instead of the electronic latch).
    • How to adjust the side view mirrors
    • That “open” is a command and not a signal (it took us probably 5-minutes to figure out that the trunk and frunk weren’t open).
    • How to turn on the car (wave the RFID car over the console).
  • That same piece of paper should clearly state the policy on refueling. In retrospect, this was probably buried in the electronic contract, which I never bothered to find, much less read (did I mention time crunch?).
  • They should eliminate any fees for normal electricity usage (e.g., no fees if returned with more than a 10% charge). A benefit of renting an electric car is not having to refuel, at least for shorter trips. Based on Edmunds’ estimate of 30 kWh per 100 miles and an average Geroria electricity rate of 13 cents per kWh, the actual cost of electricity that we used for two days would have been approximately $4. A surcharge of $35 is ridiculously high and would discourage this author from renting a Hertz electric vehicle.

Tesla

  • Driving a Model 3 is truly like operating a smartphone on wheels. It has a learning curve. Like a smartphone, once one gets used to the experience, he would probably never want to go back to driving a traditional car again1.
  • From a safety perspective, it was surprising that one can seemingly make changes on the screen while driving. Granted, it was a passenger making the changes.2
  • The wireless phone chargers are nice, but it is too easy to leave one’s phone in the car as it is out of site (there is probably a setting that will cause the car to make an audible sound if one leaves the phone. I didn’t look for this feature).
  • It is amazingly accurate in terms of how much charge will be left at a given destination.
  • After driving for a few minutes, I had this horrible feeling that the lights weren’t on (all lights automatically come on in darkness). As it turns out, it was my mind playing tricks on me, as the normal lights of a dashboard aren’t there.
  • Things like adjusting side view mirrors are not obvious. The only control knobs are on the steering wheel and were only noticed after a day or so of driving (again, it would be useful for Hertz to supply a simple instruction sheet).
  • It is possible to set a threshold alarm to beep when the speed limit is exceeded. This proved to annoy my son when he took the car to the store and reported back that the alarm sounded and had no idea why.
  • The regenerative braking is wonderful. We barely used the brakes all weekend. With that said, if it doesn’t already, the brake lights should come on during regenerative braking.
  • The interior cooling works well, particularly with the Georgia heat (although when I first jumped in, the heat seater was on and it was a hot couple of minutes trying to figure out how to turn that off).
  • My son found that it had FSD and enabled everything (while we were driving – again, it is surprising that they allow options to be selected while the car is in motion). It took us another day before we figured out how it operated.
  • On Sunday, he decided to tap that infinite source of knowledge, YouTube, to figure out why FSD wasn’t working. The answer was on the steering column. When in drive, it is a matter of flipping the selector lever down once for cruise control (automatic, I believe) and twice for auto steering. 
  • It does seem to provide a good “feet off” experience when in automatic cruise control mode.
    • It turns off when the brake is applied.
    • It is a much more aggressive driver than I am and it doesn’t seem to coast if it sees there is a stop sign. This is similar behavior to how our Subaru Cross-Trek performs, so maybe I am just a cautious driver. 
  • The autosteer feature turns off when one tries to turn the steering wheel. I found myself doing this a lot, as it seems to wait longer to start a turn than I do.
    • It is also clear that one has to have his hands firmly on the wheel or else the warning bell will sound.
    • It wasn’t clear whether this package would drive itself to the destination (never really experimented with that feature)
  • Someone would have to be an idiot to rely on FSD to drive them (at least the version of FSD installed on the Hertz Model 3). It requires attentiveness and one’s hands firmly on the wheel.

Would I rent a Model 3 from Hertz again? Yes, depending upon the circumstances (e.g. how far I need to travel and whether they charge a $35 refueling fee). 

Heck, next time, maybe the Model 3 could even double as lodging as seen here; at least it would not have cockroaches.

Notes #

1 Traditional is defined as one with separate instrumentation on a dashboard, as compared to a single screen with all the controls and gauges.

2 Given that it has a driver monitoring camera if it doesn’t already, perhaps Tesla could prevent the driver from diving into the menus while driving. It does have voice control, but we were not aware of that feature during our two-day excursion.

3 One has to wonder at what point will Tesla start selling smartphones, as it seems like most of the development is done. A Tesla smartphone would mesh well with a multi-plane communications network that they someday might develop as speculated here.

Author Ken Pyle, Managing Editor

By Ken Pyle, Managing Editor

Ken Pyle is Marketing Director for the Broadband Forum. The mission of this 25+-year-old non-profit “is to unlock the potential for new markets and profitable revenue growth by leveraging new technologies and standards in the home, intelligent small business, and multi-user infrastructure of the broadband network.”

He is also co-founder of Viodi, LLC and Managing Editor of the Viodi View, a publication focused on the rural broadband ecosystem, autonomous vehicles, and electric aviation. He has edited and produced numerous multimedia projects for NTCA, US Telecom and Viodi. Pyle is the producer of Viodi’s Local Content Workshop, the Video Production Crash Course at NAB, as well as ViodiTV. He has been intimately involved in Viodi’s consulting projects and has created processes for clients to use for their PPV and VOD operations, as well authored reports on the independent telco market.

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