March 2, 2021

Hertz to Begin Renting Electric Cars in China

HONG KONG — In the West, electric cars appeal to a do-it-yourself environmentalist personality, one who believes in taking individual actions to help address the collective problems of air pollution and global warming.

But when Hertz starts renting electric cars in China later this week, it will offer the vehicles with chauffeurs — a nod to China’s resistance to recognizing other nations’ driver’s licenses or the International Driving Permit.

Hertz executives said they planned to announce on Wednesday afternoon in Shanghai that the company would begin renting electric cars to individuals and companies in three Chinese cities, the latest sign of Western interest in working with the Chinese government on advanced technology vehicles.

Hertz will start by renting just two electric cars each in three cities — Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen — said Richard Broome, a senior vice president of Hertz. The cars will be E6 midsize sedans that have just rolled off the assembly lines of BYD, a rechargeable battery manufacturer and automaker based in Shenzhen.

MidAmerican Energy Holdings, controlled by Warren E. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, took a nearly 10 percent stake in BYD three years ago.

Hertz plans to have 25 to 30 electric cars available for rent by the end of this year and is mainly limited by the production available from BYD, Mr. Broome said. General Electric will supply many of the charging stations for the cars, but the exact number has not been determined, he said.

The Chinese government has been energetically promoting the adoption of electric cars for several years. But automakers have continued to work on ways to extend the cars’ range.

BYD says the E6 can go up to 300 kilometers, or 190 miles, on a charge, if the air-conditioning is not running and the speed is kept around 70 kilometers, or 45 miles, an hour. BYD says that driving 80 miles an hour with the air-conditioning on reduces range to 240 kilometers, or 150 miles.

Electric cars on sale or under development from Chinese automakers tend to be fairly light and simple at a time when Chinese consumers have been moving toward larger, heavier and more options-laden models. A wide range of subsidies for electric vehicles has not yet proved adequate to offset this.

“It’s not about the subsidies, it’s about the technologies themselves — a lot of the companies are not ready,” said Yale Zhang, the managing director of Automotive Foresight, an automotive consulting firm in Shanghai.

Initial price tags for electric cars in China appear to be double those for gasoline-powered cars of comparable size, and market research has suggested that most Chinese consumers will resist paying extra. The government offers a national subsidy of 60,000 renminbi, or $9,400, to buyers of each electric car.

In the last year, the municipal governments of Beijing and Shenzhen have offered an additional subsidy of another 60,000 renminbi for buyers there, while Shanghai has offered an extra 40,000 renminbi, said Jack Hidary, Hertz’s director of worldwide electric cars.

BYD’s E6, the only electric car that a Chinese automaker has put into production so far, retails for 299,800 renminbi, or $47,000, before subsidies.

Beijing and Shanghai have also exempted buyers of electric cars from their controls on the issuance of car license plates, which are aimed at limiting traffic jams and air pollution. Beijing has started a lottery system for issuing plates, reducing the number issued by two-thirds from last year, while Shanghai auctions license plates, with prices often exceeding 40,000 renminbi.

Mr. Broome said Hertz had qualified for the national and municipal subsidies. The daily rate for renting the electric cars has not yet been set, but it will be based on the reduced price of the cars after subsidies, he added.

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