Fleets Take Early Orders and Test Drives

OEMs are doing a lot of research now on what it will take for consumers to buy green machines as several enter the market later this year. The production volume and marketing is limited at first for the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt, yet the numbers will be increasing soon. And the pipeline soon will be full of vehicle options from several OEMs, and before long that will include hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Along with retail markets, fleets play an important role in OEM strategy, as they always have. Certainly, overselling to fleets can be a financial crisis for OEMs and their financial arms, but they’re important early adopters of products carrying much weight these days.

Enterprise Rent A Car is buying Nissan Leafs at MSRP minus federal tax credit, but not at the usual fleet incentive discount rate. A few months ago, Hertz said it will be placing Leafs in select locations in the US and Europe. It’s rare to see rental fleets take on such a risk – they usually buy generic, plain cars that they acquire at volume discounts. They’re not especially attractive to renters, who usually look for a cheap deal and convenient service.

About 100 Chevy Volts are being test driven around the country right now, and some of these are going to managers of large fleets. This research will help GM lay out its production and marketing plans for this important new product, one likely to provide the platform for future models. In recent years, major and specialty OEMs, including Smith Electric Vehicles, Nissan, GM, Ford, Honda, and Toyota, have been selling hybrids, natural gas and propane vehicles, and test models of electric vehicles to taxi companies, governments, electric utilities, and commercial trucking companies.

The feedback received by fleets in invaluable – data is generated on maintenance and repair, warranties, resale market value, safety, driver appeal, fuel efficiency, emissions, and onboard diagnostics and communications technologies. Just as Race for the Green, American Le Mans Series, and Automotive X Prize are important testing grounds for green machines, fleets provide even more useful data for fixing problems and generating buzz about new cars entering the market.

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