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October 27, 2021 10:15 AM, EDT

Hertz Teams With Uber, Carvana in Electric Shift

The steering wheel of an Uber Technologies Tesla Model S electric automobile The steering wheel of an Uber Technologies Tesla Model S electric automobile in Madrid, Spain. (Angel Navarrete/Bloomberg News)

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Hertz Global Holdings Inc., fresh off a blockbuster order for 100,000 Teslas, reached an exclusive agreement to supply Uber drivers with electric vehicles and signed up Carvana Co. to dispose of rental cars it no longer wants.

Taken together, the deals represent a trifecta of aggressive and innovative initiatives with the potential to upend the car rental business and hasten the transition to greener transportation. The car order on Oct. 25, the largest ever for EVs at $4.2 billion, was such as watershed moment that it propelled Tesla Inc.’s valuation past $1 trillion.

Just as surprising: The company behind it all is barely out of bankruptcy. Only 17 months ago, with the COVID-19 pandemic raging, Estero, Fla.-based Hertz was so troubled and its future so uncertain that it was forced to seek protection from creditors. Now, under the control of hedge fund and private-equity owners, Hertz is leaning on mobile technology and digitization to transform a stodgy industry known for uninspiring cars and poor customer experiences.

“Our approach is very strategic and very deliberate in terms of how we want to disrupt ourselves and, hopefully, disrupt the industry,” Mark Fields, who’s serving as interim CEO at Hertz, said in an interview. “Instead of asking why, we’re asking why not.”

Had Uber bought and rented out the Teslas itself, some states might classify drivers as employees. This arrangement with Hertz allows Uber to increase the number of rides taken on EVs without having to change its business model.

Under the agreement with Uber Technologies Inc., drivers for the ride-hailing giant who previously had to provide and maintain their own EVs will be able to rent one of 50,000 Teslas from Hertz instead. The program, which starts Nov. 1, is an alternative to buying or leasing, and many drivers may find it more appealing.

Had Uber bought and rented out the Teslas itself, some states might classify drivers as employees. This arrangement with Hertz allows Uber to increase the number of rides taken on EVs without having to change its business model.

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“Now is the time to drive a green recovery from the pandemic,” Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO of San Francisco-based Uber, said in a statement.

Partnering with Uber and Phoenix-based Carvana addresses two key weaknesses in the rental business: asset utilization — how actively a car is rented out; and resale recovery — how much of the purchase price is recouped when the car is sold. By opening part of its EV fleet to ride-hailing, Hertz is aiming to maximize revenue per vehicle and improve profit margins.

Through the new deal with Carvana, one of the two biggest online car marketplaces, Hertz hopes to eliminate the discounting necessary when selling vehicles from its fleet through dealers and wholesalers. Buyers will be able to pick up cars as soon as the following day. Carvana, home of the car vending machine, earns a commission.

“This provides us with a very effective direct-to-consumer sales channel,” Fields said.

Under the Uber agreement, drivers will pay a starting rate of $334 a week to rent a Tesla with unlimited miles, plus expenses for recharging and incidental damage. That’ll gradually drop to $299. Initially, the program is open only to drivers with a 4.7-star rating and a minimum of 150 trips.

Drivers won’t be able to turn on Tesla’s autopilot feature, Fields said.

Uber is offering drivers a zero-emission incentive of $1 a ride for using EVs and 50 cents for every rider who chooses to go green. As with all rentals, Hertz covers or absorbs the cost of financing, basic maintenance, insurance and depreciation.

Hertz has been renting to Uber drivers since 2016. The new agreement builds on that program, adding at least 50,000 Teslas to the pool of available vehicles by 2023. The new EVs will be available first in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and Washington, D.C., with a nationwide rollout to follow in coming weeks.

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