Pollinating daily-rental fleets with new models has been a tried-and-true way for Detroit to build consumer interest and acceptability. And now, Nissan is applying this traditional strategy with the most non-traditional vehicle it has ever introduced: Leaf.
Enterprise Holdings plans to buy 500 of the all-electric Leaf vehicles and sprinkle them into the rental fleets of its Enterprise, Alamo and National brands in eight U.S. cities. The company also pledged to install charging stations at some of its locations in 30 U.S. cities beginning this fall and to purchase other electric vehicles as manufacturers make them available.
The announcement is a major development in Enterprise's Keys to Green sustainability program, and also represents another significant step forward for Leaf, which emerged basically from nowhere over the last year to capture the most buzz of any of the still-to-be-debuted electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids.
Only a year ago, the Chevrolet Volt dominated such talk, and is trying to win back the buzz with the GM-owned brand's announcement today of the Volt's pricing and readiness to start taking orders.
At $41,000, the Volt costs more than the Leaf, which goes on sale for $32,780 in December, but the leasing plan will cost the same and the battery warranties are similar (8 years/100,000 miles).
Nissan plans a soft roll-out of the Leaf in a handful of U.S. markets. The Japan-based automaker reportedly plans to sell 20,000 Leafs in the U.S. each in 2011 and 2012 and scale up to 150,000 vehicles in 2013.
Of course, Leaf drivers will be out on a limb, even when Enterprise begins renting the vehicles. The cars have a range of only 100 miles, meaning rentals will be limited by geography. Plus there’s the fact that electric-car charging stations will be few and far between even in major U.S. cities for the next few years.
But at some point, these leaps of faith and votes of confidence in electric cars that are being taken by major consumer brands such as Enterprise will prompt American consumers to take their own leap of faith on Leaf.