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I’m hardly a technology prude. I had rooftop solar long before door-to-door salespeople were hocking panels. I had a laptop with wireless internet ages before hotspots existed and mobile phones were flipped open (it was a thing in 1996, look it up). 

I’m also a creature of familiar comforts. Living on the edge of technology is one thing, but I still want to be assured the lights will illuminate when I turn the switch on. I suspect I’m like many others who likely prefer modestly priced services when I need to avail myself of them.

I found myself in need of a rental car the other day. I’ve found that such options can be more cost-effective than BART, and given my bride’s angst about ride-hailing services there are few other options beyond a taxi when the family bluntly says they’re not waiting up at 5 a.m. to give us a ride to the airport.

The rental company offers a ‘mystery car’ option, often at a significant discount. Being price-aware and not afraid of driving anything under 20 tons, I figured, what’s the worst that they can dish out? I’ve survived the Kia Soul, the cherry red Dodge Charger and the assorted minivans. The idea of an electric vehicle (EV) intrigued me.

Hertz didn’t disappoint: my ‘mystery car’ was a Kia Niro. It still had the new car smell and an odometer with 244 miles on it. I reckon the roundtrip from Oakland Airport to Livermore and back was 70 miles tops, so I wouldn’t need to fuss about charging it.

Good thing, too. The car had a basic charger cord, but no adapter in the event I found myself at a charging station that wasn’t compatible. This is where my hesitation begins about EVs.

Charging options are not (yet?) universal. From what little I can glean, there are two different plug types in the United States in addition to the Tesla plug. Charging stations are not all created equal, and if you need to charge a rental at home, it doesn’t really matter. While they can plug into ordinary home outlets, the charging speed is dramatically less than if you had a dedicated 220-volt power outlet for your EV. 

Thankfully, this wasn’t my worry. 70 miles roundtrip and the gauge suggested I had roughly 200 miles until I needed to panic. 200 miles until I’d find myself on the side of the road waiting for the AAA-equivalent of the Energizer bunny waiting for rescue to charge up a dead battery.

That said, I found it stressful. If I accelerated too quickly, I could see the battery being drained faster. As soon as my bride fired up the seat heater and defroster I would have sworn I heard the battery sigh aloud at this transgression. The car seemed to be whispering, “Do you want range or comfort? Choose wisely.” It’s reminiscent of “The Matrix” and choosing between taking the red pill or the blue pill. Much as Morpheus says, you can’t take both.

The dash of my 2024 Kia Niro on Feb. 29, 2024. The anxiety-inducing 98 MPH until the car becomes a paperweight is prominently seen in the lower left.  (Photo by Paul George/The Express)

If I took my foot off the accelerator (don’t you dare call it a gas pedal), the regenerative brakes applied itself to slow the car’s speed. This has the effect of helping charge the battery by converting the resistance to electricity. It also has the effect of slowing me down WAY faster than I’d expected until I got the hang of it.

I may not be alone. In Jan. 2024, Hertz made the business decision to sell off a third of its electrical vehicle fleet, or about 20,000 vehicles. Hertz cited reasons for the high cost of maintenance and ‘customer demand’ for internal combustion engine vehicles. 

Given the casual drivers like myself not being onboard with the added commitment to hiring an EV, Hertz’s doesn’t come as a surprise. I’d be equally surprised if they’re alone in re-evaluating the mix of vehicles in a company’s fleet.

All told, I’m a fan of EVs and what they promise. At least for me, I’m not yet ready to give up my combustion engine vehicle until I can get the range and universal ability to charge up quick. 

Paul George is a staff writer and columnist for The Express. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @paulgeorgePIO.

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