ATLANTA --- The car rental business is slowly undergoing a green evolution, packing its fleets with more hybrids and fuel-efficient vehicles.
But so far, it has been a cautious transition, since there's no telling whether consumer demand will meet the supply.
Enterprise Rent-A-Car, the nation's largest car rental company, launched one of its more ambitious efforts Wednesday, opening four "green branches" in Atlanta. About 60 percent of the vehicles at the chain's stores will be hybrids or other fuel-efficient vehicles.
Other rental giants also say they're trying to keep pace with a growing appetite for environmentally friendly cars.
Analysts, though, say it's still unclear how fast the trend will grow. They say much of the consumer demand now comes from environmentally conscious customers and others looking for an extended test drive before they buy one.
"Those who are looking for a value in terms of dollar for dollar will absolutely not get hybrids," said Brian Chee, the head automotive analyst at MyRide.com. But he said there's a growing market that's willing to shell out an extra $40 for the hybrids.
And some wonder whether consumers will be willing to dish out premiums for a hybrid that could outstrip fuel savings on short-term rentals.
"At the end of the day, it's the consumer that drives rental fleeting," said Neil Abrams, the president of Abrams Consulting Group Inc., a rental car industry consultancy.
Car rental companies are adding to their environmentally friendly offerings:
- Enterprise boasts 4,000 of the vehicles in its fleet of 1.1 million.
- Hertz said it will add 3,500 Toyota Prius hybrids by the start of summer.
- Avis Budget Group Inc. now offers 2,500 hybrids.
STILL OUTNUMBERED: The numbers seem meager compared with the nation's total rental fleet of 1.8 million.
-- Associated Press