TIMES SQUARE — Everybody wants me to drive their electric cars these days. Pouring rain kept me away from a nice ride-and-drive opportunity with the New York Power Authority, which wanted to showcase a healthy and growing fleet, and Monday I made it down to Times Square to take a spin in the green cars that, as of next week will be available in the Connect by Hertz car-sharing fleets. That’s right. Next week. Electric car rentals — first in New York, followed by Washington and San Francisco. (London and maybe Beijing will be next in line.)
Company reps hand me the keys as if I’m about to have the thrill of a lifetime, but of course I’ve driven every electric vehicle by now, many of them multiple times. The Tesla Roadster I’ve driven probably five times, and on more than one coast. (I did a video about one Tesla drive in Manhattan.) But it’s always great fun to drive this $109,000 high-voltage shock wagon. I love the Tesla, even in Times Square, where instead of dodging prostitutes, you try to avoid out-of-town Broadway patrons and the Charmin bear. (More on that below.)
In big traffic, the Tesla is stop-start: You find a miraculously clear avenue and sprint down it, only to jam on the brakes a few seconds later, but it’s exhilarating. Hertz is going to make the Tesla Roadster (and presumably the Model S) available only to prestige-collection rental customers for $100 a day.
The Nissan Leaf will be $7 an hour in the car-sharing program, according to Hertz Global EV Leader Jack Hidary. I’ve driven the Leaf in Manhattan before, courtesy of Nissan — a memorable fast run through Central Park. This time I took it through the theater district, turning heads all the way. The Leaf is impressive, quiet, comfortable, sophisticated, and bristling with high-tech aids to help with charging and plug-in connectivity. It handles excellently, as I found out when I was steering around rickshaws and bicycle messengers.
I’ve driven Coda sedans on both coasts, too, and this one was resplendent in two-tone white and black. The Coda, which has been delayed until the second half of 2011, is still a work in progress, meaning that the company hasn’t gotten through crash testing yet. Spokesman Matt Sloustcher said Coda is going for a four- or five-star New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) rating, which it plans to have in place by next year.
The Coda isn’t as cutting-edge cool as the Leaf, though it does look good with the black wheels that Sloustcher said customers preferred in a survey. It’s also more expensive than the $32,790 Leaf at nearly $44,000. Its two selling points are an extended battery range of 120 miles rather than 100, and onboard battery heating and cooling, which should extend the life of the pack.
Coda has been doing fairly well with fleet sales, since the Hertz deal complements another with Enterprise Rent-a-Car, and Sloustcher told me that 30 to 50 percent of sales could be to corporations and governments. (The first charging station in my hometown of Norwalk, Conn., is in a municipal parking garage — put in not by a homeowner but by the town.)
I had a quick spin in the Coda, and it accelerates well, although it's a bit noisier than the Leaf. Coda has added two-tone leather seats, which is a nice touch to an interior that needed brightening up.
Hertz has a pair of charging stations at Connect offices in Manhattan, and is partnering with Starwood Hotels, which is installing stations at the snazzy new Element Times Square hotel, and soon at other Starwood Aloft, Element and Four Points by Sheraton hotels. The idea is that you’ll stay at an Element, suddenly need a car for a night out, and there will be the cutting-edge electric cars available for a first-time trial.
I mentioned the Charmin bear earlier. Charmin had set up what appeared to be a 10-hole privy station on 42nd Street, which came in handy after a long walk across town. The dancing bear was the “no pieces left” guy from the TV ads. Here he is in all his glory, egged on by some mega-enthusiastic Charmin “partners.”
Let’s hope those "associates" were making more than minimum wage, but as fearsome 2010 comes to an end, anybody working at all should be praised.