Touring Tasmania in a high performance BMW EV has me ready to make the switch.
Hankering for an EV but too afraid to take the leap? Try renting one! If you do, you will be among friends -— a recent industry report found that the world’s electric car rental market is poised to grow by more than $11 billion from 2022-2027, accelerating at 12.64% a year.
With international tourism back amid rising fuel costs, more and more drivers want better performance and lower emissions, so demand is skyrocketing. Incentives, subsidies and new government regulations in many countries are also playing a key role in ramping up the vibrant EV rental market.
On a recent trip through Australia’s southernmost state of Tasmania, my partner and I decided to give an EV a go. Before the trip, I’d booked a regular old gas-powered car despite the annoyances of paying a small fortune upfront, spending more on expensive climate-destroying fuel, then the inevitable scramble to fill the tank before returning it to the airport.
For our dollars, we got a super luxury vehicle with room to swing our arms in and, at last, an EV to try without a long-term commitment.
When we showed up at the car rental desk, I couldn’t resist asking if there was any chance of an upgrade, expecting the usual eyeroll and “no”. To our surprise, the staffer pointed to a slick, black SUV out front — the latest BMW EV, model iX3. It was available for an extra $15 a day on what we’d already paid with free charging thrown in. We did the math: likely two tanks of fuel in six days for about A$200 ($US143) versus A$90 and free charging for the EV. It was a no brainer.
For our dollars, we got a super luxury vehicle with room to swing our arms around in and, at last, an EV to try without a long-term commitment. The fact that it wasn’t a Tesla was a bonus, given the recent shenanigans of that company’s CEO.
Read Elisabeth Mealey’s related story: “Australian Billionaire bets millions on used electric vehicles.”
The choice of EVs, whether you are renting or buying, is now in the hundreds of brand and style options and with programmable points of difference like a unique Hans Zimmer-created “sound” in the newest BMW EV and entertainment features like the Tesla fart mode. In 2022, as many as 10 million new plug-in passenger cars were sold, with EVs hitting a record 18% of market share.
In 2021 Tesla owned the top three model sales slots globally. Not anymore. Last year, brands such as Ford, Chevy and Hyundai began climbing up the EV sales ranking. More impressively is affordable Chinese brand Build Your Dreams (BYD), which just overtook Tesla as the world’s biggest EV seller with six models in the global top ten as of November 2022, largely led by sales in China. BYD sold 641,000 EVs and hybrid cars in one month in late 2022. When U.S. investor Warren Buffet took a stake in the company in 2008 the news raised eyebrows. He and BYD are now giving Elon Musk a serious run for his money.
Back in Tasmania, we ease into our plush BMW EV that includes a sound system that you turn on and up with hand gestures. A few tips from the rental staff and we’re away. With a slick dash screen and dead quiet running, we knew we weren’t in combustion engine Kansas anymore!
Our first destination was Mt Field National Park to walk among some of Tasmania’s remaining old-growth forests. Getting the feel for acceleration and braking took a while but before long, it was second nature. We had a full charge setting off and a range of about 400 kilometres, which was more than enough for our travel day. In stop-start traffic getting out of Tasmania’s capital, Hobart, the range dropped quickly but on the open road, we did much better, especially going downhill, thanks to the regenerative braking system that actually adds charge to the car.
That first day, we went a bit crazy — taking back roads and a few unplanned detours. About an hour out of our destination on Tassie’s east coast, we started searching the charge station app for a place to power up. Being newbies, we didn’t want to get too far below 100 kilometres of range without back up, especially as Tasmania is still building its EV charging network. We found a charge hub in a small seaside town, pulled out the unfamiliar charging adaptors and tried to figure out how to get the charger to recognize our free charging fob. Once charging, our hearts sank. This station was not super-fast. Power trickled into the battery at just 24kW an hour. After half an hour, we had only increased the charge from 45% to about 55%.
No worries, we thought. We’ll top up overnight with the other adaptor in the back – designed for household charging. At our AirBnB there was a handy outlet on the balcony, and we plugged in, expecting a full charge by morning. Rookie error. The AC charger only provides 1.8kW per hour, which gave us just an extra 70–80 kilometers.
Undaunted, we took off to see the wonderful Freycinet National Park and hike to Wineglass Bay – a beautiful white sand beach surrounded by stunning forest and ancient granite mountains. A stopover at a winery to pick up a crisp Tassie white and we were feeling good…and just a little bit smug as we watched all the carbon-emitters on the road around us. Another longer night of drip-feed charging at our Airbnb gave us 110 kilometers – a 70% charge – for the drive to Launceston through old towns and forested backcountry.
We planned to stop at our friends’ off-grid fishing shack high up on Tasmania’s Central Plateau, nestled on the side of Great Lake. When they realized we’d rented an EV, they texted frantically to warn us that we’d probably trip their small solar-power system trying to charge there. No worries, we said. We’ll visit one of Launceston’s ultra-fast charging stations to get the range needed for the 82 km uphill, hairpin bend trip to their place.
This trip showed us that commercial charging stations are popping up everywhere.
The ultra-fast charging station was in the carpark of a busy shopping centre and when we arrived, two Teslas were vying for access. We sailed in just ahead of the second Tesla, connected up and stood back and marvelled as the 350kW charger worked its magic in just 45 minutes. We went from 30% to 99% charge and the range was predicted to be 400 kilometers. That’s when we realized that the range forecast on the dash is a projected distance based on the most recent driving conditions, selected driving mode and the driver’s style.
The hairpin turns on the way to the Central Plateau reduced our range to about 250 kilometres – still plenty to get there and back. And we made up range on the way down the mountain.
The rest of the trip was smooth and worry-free. We arrived home more convinced than ever that our next car must be an EV – though probably not the new BMW iX3 priced at $A115,000 (US$83,000). As apartment dwellers without a garage, we have pondered how we’d charge effectively but this trip showed us that commercial charging stations are popping up everywhere and, if fast enough, makes it completely workable for the range we need.
Read our related story: “EVgo’s Cathy Zoi says electric cars are here, and there’s no turning back.”
Back at the airport heading home, we dropped into the rental desk to compliment them on the EV. The team there was enthusiastic about the company’s plans to build their Australian EV fleet to 25% of overall rentals by the end of February 2023 and then to 50% by late 2023.
The market is clearly on a sharp incline. A recent survey by Hertz, found 59% of Australian drivers would consider buying an electric car the next time they bought a vehicle, and 67% wanted to rent one to test the technology first.
Hertz Asia-Pacific vice president Eoin MacNeill said driving an EV for the first time was convincing many customers.
“We’re finding that customers who try our EVs love them,” he said, “not just because of the environmental benefits but also because the experience is helping them dispel some of the predetermined myths they may have had about driving one.”
That was certainly the case for us. It was love at first charge.