A few years ago, it was nearly impossible to rent a hybrid car. Now, the ability to complete a hybrid car rental is only limited by your willingness to plan ahead. All the major rental companies—including Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Hertz, and Avis-Budget—have added thousands of hybrids to their fleets in recent years, and they would like to add more to meet growing demand. Unfortunately, the rental car companies are fighting for the same limited hybrid inventory that has put retail consumers on long waiting lists.

“What we’re able to get into the fleet is dictated by what we’re able to buy,” said Lisa Martini, a spokesperson for Enterprise Rent-A-Car, in an interview with HybridCars.com. The Enterprise website states it more emphatically: “We’ll take as many [hybrids] as we can get.” The company currently has more than 4,000 hybrids, with plans to double that number in 2009.

Avis-Budget, which is also targeting a significant increase in its number of hybrid car rentals, is confronting the same supply problem. Lauren Nodzak, corporate communications specialist, told HybridCars.com, “Manufacturers will only sell us hybrids in very small quantities.” And Hertz is in the same boat. “We’re looking into adjusting our fleet to meet the demand for hybrids,” said Leann Sabato, a company spokesperson.

Toyota, the world’s leader in hybrids, allots only so many vehicles to fleets. In 2007, less than 5 percent of Toyota’s hybrids sales went to fleets—and those are divided between government, corporate, and car rental companies.

Hybrid Car Rental Is a Necessity

Going green and efficient is becoming a business imperative, according to Chris Brown, editor of Auto Rental News, a publication that monitors the car rental industry. “Let’s face it. The customer is driving this cart. Nobody wants to rent SUVs anymore,” said Brown. “The car rental companies have no choice, so they’re becoming proactive.” The rising demand stems from consumers hoping to pay less for fuel, but also a desire from customers wanting to conduct an extended test-drive of hybrid vehicles—as a way to learn more about the driving experience, if they are thinking about purchasing a hybrid.

As production of gas-electric and other alternative vehicles expands, and the rental companies add additional hybrid car rentals to their fleets, getting behind the wheel of hybrid on a vacation or business trip may not require an advanced reservation. Until that time, consumers should make a special effort to book a hybrid in advance, specifically by make and model.

Enterprise Rent-A-Car

Hybrid car rental fleet: More than 4,000 hybrids, including Toyota Prius, Nissan Altima Hybrid, and Ford Escape Hybrid, with plans to double that number in 2009. (These numbers include hybrid car rentals available from National and Alamo, which is owned by Enterprise.)
Hybrid locations: Throughout the United States (with more limited availability of the Nissan Altima Hybrid).

Hybrid reservations: Local offices will make an effort to accommodate hybrid requests, but it’s not guaranteed.

Hertz

Hybrid car rental fleet: Approximately 4,000 hybrids (up from 1,200 in 2007).

Hybrid locations: Top 50 airports throughout the United States, and other various locations.

Hybrid reservations: Guaranteed reservations available for 3,400 of the hybrids in their fleet.

Avis-Budget

Hybrid car rental fleet: Approximately 2,500 hybrids.

Hybrid locations: Priuses are available in California, Florida and selected cities, including Seattle, Wash.; Portland, Ore.; Washington, D.C.; Boston, Mass.; Chicago, Ill.; Dallas, Tex.; New York, NY.; and Philadelphia, Penn. Nissan Altima Hybrids and Ford Escape Hybrids are also available in California and Florida.

Hybrid reservations: Hybrids are available with guaranteed reservation.

The number of hybrid rentals in any company’s fleet may give some indication of its commitment to fuel efficiency. But the more telling statistic for the rental companies is the average fuel efficiency of their entire fleets. In that regard, the race looks like a dead heat, with all the major car companies reporting that nearly half of their vehicles have fuel efficiency ratings of 28 mpg or higher—a figure which is almost identical to the average fuel economy of all new cars.

Customers interested in fuel economy, but who are unable to reserve a hybrid due to limited availability, can take the next best step by reserving or renting a vehicle within the most efficient “class” that meets their needs—for example, opting for a compact car rather than a full-size model, or a sedan rather than an SUV.