Electric cars are a lot of fun to drive. But that’s not common knowledge outside of a relatively small circle of industry folks and electric vehicle enthusiasts.
Many people think that electric vehicles are something like glorified golf carts, without the power or pickup of a gasoline-fueled car. The lack of familiarity with the cars, along with their comparatively steep upfront sticker price, are two of the biggest challenges to widespread adoption of cars that run on electrons. Orlando, jam-packed with theme parks and golf courses, is combating the former with a new initiative, Drive Electric Orlando.
The city has brought together more than 30 hotels, car rental companies, travel agencies, the convention center and the three major theme parks (Disney World, SeaWorld, Universal Studios) to build the infrastructure needed to offer electric vehicles to the approximately 57 million visitors that pass through the city annually.
“Once someone gets behind the wheel of the car, they’re blown away,” said Sam Ori, executive vice president of the Electrification Coalition. "If you could build out infrastructure at key endpoints, you could provide high level of confidence -- especially at hotels.”
The program has lofty goals, but only a miniscule fraction of Orlando’s visitors will actually get a taste of it, for now. Enterprise Rent-A-Car, the rental partner, is offering fifteen Nissan Leafs from its airport location in Orlando. The cars have already been selling out during the program's soft launch, and Ori said they will add options -- both more inventory and more models -- as time goes on. He said they hope to have more by the end of the year.
“We know that the car rental experience is often an extended test drive,” Lee Broughton, head of sustainability for Enterprise Rent-A-Car, said in a statement. “Our partnership with Drive Electric Orlando familiarizes travelers with new vehicle technology that they may not otherwise be able to experience.”
Orlando already has nearly 300 ChargePoint EV charging stations as part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Transportation Electrification Initiative. Most of the chargers are 240-volt, level-2 chargers. Nissan also donated 30 DC fast chargers. The project is currently siting charging at additional hotels and at the theme parks.
The electric cars will rent for the same price as other options, about $30 per day. Charging will be free at most hotels and tourist destinations, and hotels are offering free valet service for those in an electric vehicle. Most hotels have one or two chargers, which would be expanded depending on the popularity of the initiative.
Orlando is an ideal location to pilot such a program. Most destinations for business and pleasure are twelve to eighteen miles apart. While some DC fast charging will be offered, Ori noted that the hotels are key because that is where most charging will happen overnight. Also, most visitors spend half or most of a day at a single location, whether that’s Epcot or the convention center.
“In order to make electric vehicles more mainstream, it will take partnerships on the advocacy level,” said Brendan Jones, director of EV Infrastructure and Strategy at Nissan North America. Nissan Leafs are the first car deployed, but Chevy is also on board, so Chevy Volts could be the next vehicle to join the program.
Public chargers and available electric cars in one of America’s iconic vacation destinations is an important step. With large companies like Sabre Travel and Enterprise playing a role, it is also possible this could spread to other cities. Now if only Disney Pixar’s Cars 3 movie would prominently feature an all-electric character.
Watch the Drive Electric Orlando promotional video: