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Hertz nurtures business-to-business interest in electric vehicles

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Rental car company's addition of five Ford Transit Connect Electric vehicles is latest in string of partnerships intended to stoke corporate interest in green transportation alternatives.

Plenty has been written and will continue to be written about the uphill climb faced by electric vehicle makers when it comes to selling to consumers. Apparently, businesses are a different story.

The world's largest rental car company, Hertz, has just purchased five Ford Transit Connect Electric vans that it will rent to the clients of its Hertz Entertainment Services and Hertz On Demand service divisions. Both of those divisions focus on renting to businesses, rather than individuals.  For example, Hertz Entertainment Services rents to crews working on films or televisions series. So, not only could the vehicles be used on set, they could also (in theory) find their way on camera. (Hey, electric vehicle product placements!) The units will be out in the field by mid-November, according to the two companies.

"We expect to deploy the Transit Connect Electric in our B to B programs for customers who need a light duty van with a high degree of cargo capacity as part of their fleet solutions," said Hertz Chairman and CEO Mark Frissora in a statement.

When I spoke with Rich Broome, Hertz senior vice president of corporate affairs and communications, just a few days ago, he said that the interest in Hertz services surrounding electric vehicles took the company somewhat by surprise. He said there already is demand for up to 2,000 to 3,000 electric vehicles among Hertz's business to business customers, a demand that is complication by the availability of electric vehicles. "That is our limitation right now," Broome said.

How are businesses using electric vehicles?

Broome said some are looking into deploying them at airports in certain regions, so that traveling employees can rent them for company business purposes.

Hotel chains such as Marriott and Starwood Hotels & Resorts are participating by installing charging stations at their locations, he said. Marriott and Hertz, for example, are billing their joint effort as a car-sharing program. Starwood is likewise encouraging the deployment of electric vehicles at rental office at its properties.

GE also is getting involved. Part of an initiative announced by Hertz and GE late in the summer of August 2011, with a focus on China, also has a business-to-business flavor. The two companies are hoping to promote rentals and leasing arrangements intended to drive interest in electric vehicles within the world's second largest economy.

Other key Hertz partners in the electric vehicle charge (at least the ones that Broome is willing to discuss publicly) are NRG Energy, which with the rental car company is building out a charging station network across five Texas cities, and Florida Power & Light. Broome said electric vehicle proponents can expect to see additional B-to-B-driven relationships in the near future.

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure