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Hertz pulls back on EV plans citing Tesla price cuts, high repair costs

Hertz is pumping the brakes on plans to electrify more of its rental car fleet after EV repair costs came in higher than the company anticipated, and after Tesla price cuts reduced the resale value of the majority of electric cars in its fleet by about one-third.

CEO Stephen Scherr said on the company’s third-quarter earnings update on Thursday, “our in-fleeting of EVs will be slower than our prior expectations.”

The rental car company reported lower than expected margins for the period ending September 2023, and the CEO said EV repairs were one challenge. “Our direct operating expenses remained controlled in the quarter as they grew with transaction volume. On a unit basis, we achieved productivity gains across most categories of auto. The exception remained vehicle damage costs, particularly those on our EVs.”

Scherr also said, “MSRP declines in EVs over the course of 2023, driven primarily by Tesla, have driven the fair market value of our EVs lower as compared to last year, such that as salvage creates a larger loss and therefore greater burden.”

Shares of Hertz closed down by around 10% on Thursday at $9.04 following the third-quarter update. Tesla shares also dipped around 3% on Thursday to close at $205.76.

Hertz also disclosed on Thursday that about 80% of the battery electric cars in its fleet are Teslas today. About 11% of Hertz’s entire fleet is comprised of electric cars now. With around 50,000 electric cars in its fleet currently, that means Hertz has around 35,000 Teslas in its fleet now.

That number is far shy of the 100,000 Tesla electric cars Hertz originally said it was ordering from Tesla by the end of 2022.

Hertz Global Chief Executive Officer Stephen Scherr said Hertz is still “committed” to buying 100,000 cars from Tesla and 175,000 EVs from GM, but is not on target to have EVs represent a quarter of its fleet by the end of 2024 any more as previously hoped.

“Our focus and our work with Tesla is to look at the performance of the car so as to lower the risk of incidents of damage,” Scherr said. “And we’re in very direct engagement with them on parts procurement and labor and the like.”

As Hertz buys up more EVs from GM and other automakers down the line, Scherr said on the company’s Q3 call, the company expects those electric vehicles to have a “lower incidence of damage,” and “a lower cost of parts and labor.”

“Remember, in the likes of GM and other OEMs, there’s decades of establishment of a broad national parts supply network. There’s an aftermarket of parts that that is there that is less mature obviously in the context of Tesla,” Scherr said, adding that margins and other EV issues would improve as Hertz looks to “diversify” that part of its fleet.

On October 25, 2021, Hertz first announced plans to grow its fleet of battery-electric vehicles with “an initial order of 100,000 Teslas by the end of 2022.” Tesla hit a $1 trillion market cap for the first time after the Hertz announcement.

A commercial featuring repeat Super Bowl champion Tom Brady, alongside parked Tesla Model 3 electric sedans in a Hertz garage, accompanied the announcement.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk waited until November 2, 2021, a week later, to inform Tesla shareholders in a post on Twitter, the social network he now owns and has rebranded as X, that Hertz had not signed any contract with Tesla for the high-volume order.

Musk frequently says that electric cars require less maintenance than counterparts with internal combustion engines (including plug-in hybrid electrics). That’s a big potential selling point for electric cars, and a reference to items like motor oil, oil filters, engine air filters, transmission fluid, spark plugs and other items requiring annual maintenance or scheduled replacements.

But electric vehicle owners can face unique maintenance needs, as well. Nikhil Naikal, CEO of Kinetic, a startup that is not affiliated with Hertz or Tesla but provides repairs for electric and autonomous vehicles, told CNBC on Thursday:

“The reality of electric vehicles is that they can be 1,000 pounds heavier or more than gas vehicles, and they move faster, with higher torque. Since they’re extremely zippy and heavier, it’s just physics — the ability to overcome inertia so quickly is going to effect their suspension systems, the brakes and steering columns. It’s counter-intuitive, but even with fewer moving parts they are susceptible to requiring more maintenance. They especially require tire-swapping, because the tires wear out more quickly from that high torque and weight.”

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