What do the InterContinental in Chicago, the Loews Vanderbilt in Tennessee, the Hollywood Hotel, most Kimpton's hotels and all of Starwood's Element hotels have in common?
They all boast onsite electric vehicle (EV) charging stations.
Although EV ownership represents just a tiny slice of the car market - plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) like the Chevrolet Volt, extended range EVs and all-electric vehicles (AEVs) like the Nissan Leaf account for 0.3 percent of U.S. sales according to the Electric Drive Transportation Association - car rental firms are steadily adding more electric vehicles to their fleets.
A quick search of the main rental players shows that Hertz Rent-A-Car offers electric cars in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Washington, in London and in Chinese hubs. Enterprise Rent-A-Car has plug-in vehicles in at least 19 U.S. locations, while Avis Budget Group has a range of EVs, including Chevy Volts in the U.S. and Renault Fluence ZE's in Europe, though none in the U.K where they have invested substantially in diesel vehicles.
Both EV-renting and EV-owning clientele will be on the lookout for pioneering hotels who can charge their environmentally friendly steeds.
"Hotel EV chargers give hotel guests the opportunity to drive something they ordinarily wouldn't, while also promoting the hotel's green credentials," says Neil King, automotive analyst for Euromonitor, adding that though the share of EVs may well be low, "hotels will presumably be careful not to alienate those (few) consumers who do need charging points."
ECOtality, a firm who make and install EV charging points, says that they have installed hundreds of these at hotels across the U.S., out of a total of around 14,000 charger systems sold over the last three years.
According to their own research, ECOtality says EV drivers return to commercial sites with charging stations three times as much as regular customers.
Hotels are looking to reinvent themselves, argues the company's Brian Koontz. "I think that a portion of the travel industry will really as you see more widespread adoption from a consumer perspective. A lot of hotels are trading off their green-certified buildings and charging stations add to that."
"A charging station at their place of business is an in-your-face beacon for the consumer to say ‘this is our portion of giving back to the community or to our sustainability efforts'," says Koontz.
All Element hotels are built with a Google-mapped ChargePoint EV charging station, but guests who drive hybrid vehicles get the benefit of priority parking. Kimpton's Hotels offer a similar perk, with the bulk of their 52 properties offering free or discounted parking for hybrid-car drivers.
Because public EV charging station locations show up on the internet and on devoted mobile apps, touring EV owners can make use of a hotel's bar or restaurant during the three to four hours it takes to charge the vehicles.
Jeff Zarrinnam, general manager at Hollywood Hotel, recalls an incident with a couple who were driving a Nissan Leaf on a very low battery and would not be able to make home without a quick recharge.
"They found us on an app, called our front desk and asked if they could use one of our EV chargers for a quick charge. They were welcome, of course, they parked and plugged in… took a little break in our bar and lounge and within the hour were on their way home."
Zarrinnam says the decision to install a charging station back in June was a ‘no-brainer.' "Let's face it, for some people Los Angeles is a synonym for ‘smog' and if I could help to eliminate that connotation... It's also just good prudent business for everyone and gives us a good reputation of doing the right thing."
Running out of juice
Of those who own their own electric vehicles, driving range and availability of battery charging stations outside the home remain chief concerns, according to the Electric Vehicle Ownership Experience Study by market researcher J.D. Power and Associates in November 2012.
The survey found that virtually all EV owners charge their vehicle at home, but half of them also use stations at their place of work or at shopping malls and airports.
When respondents were asked which vehicle in their household they would use to go on a long trip, only 2 percent of all-electric vehicle (AEV) owners said they would take their car. Conversely, 50 percent of plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) owners said they would take that vehicle.
But when asked what trade-offs they have made during their EV ownership experience, only 20 percent of AEV owners and 3 percent of PHEV owners claimed shorter family trips as a trade-off.
Discussing the findings, Jeff Conklin, senior director at J.D. Power's Energy Practice, confirms that most EV owners drive less than 35 miles daily, and the typical driving distance between charges is 40 miles. Over a half of AEV owners and more than one-third of PHEV owners have charged their vehicle away from home at least once in the past 30 days.
Conklin says that retail locations such as shopping centres and hotels are popular away-from-home charging locations, with 26 percent of drivers making use of these venues.