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Stephen Scherr, who rolled out and then sold off much of the car rental company’s EV fleet, is stepping down.

Michael C. Anderson, Editor-in-Chief, Battery Technology

March 19, 2024

3 Min Read
Tom Brady with a Tesla at an airport Hertz
Ironically foreshadowing customers, Tom Brady walks away from a Hertz Tesla EV.Image courtesy of Hertz

At a Glance

  • Hertz CEO Stephen Scherr is resigning following disappointing 2023 earnings.
  • Scherr led Hertz through its rollout of EVs as a major part of the rental fleet, which turned out to be a disaster.
  • Hertz sold off its Tesla EVs just as the price was plummeting as a result of Tesla's price-slashing.

Car rental company Hertz has announced that CEO Stephen Scherr is stepping down at the end of March. The move follows a Q4 2023 earnings report detailing a drain of $245 million on its bottom line from the reduction in value of 20,000 EVs in its fleet that the company announced it was selling in January. That would seem to make Scherr at least in part a casualty of Tesla’s price war. But that sale—a third of its total EV fleet—followed what an analyst told CNN was a “horror show” of poor judgement as the company spent two years and lots of money trying—and largely failing—to get customers to rent EVs. There are lessons here for the entire EV industry.

An electrifying start

In 2021—under previous CEO, Mark Fields—Hertz announced that it was going to offer the largest EV rental fleet in North America, beginning with an order for 100,000 Teslas and with a major investment in its charging infrastructure. The company hired pro football superstar Tom Brady as a spokesperson in a series of “Hertz, Let’s Go!” advertisements that featured Brady using a Hertz EV.

Hertz went on to announce plans to buy 175,000 GM EVs and 65,000 Polestar EVs. Eventually, EVs made up more than 11% of the company’s total fleet, according to CNN.

But it turned out that not many customers were interested in renting the shiny new EVs.

An unsuccessful EV rollout

Why not? The number of EVs being sold in North America had been surging and there was every reason to believe that such interest would translate to increase EV rentals as well. In fact, one might suppose that for internal-combustion-engine (ICE) powered car drivers who were EV-curious, renting an EV would be a good way to give the platform a try.

It didn’t happen that way.

As CNN’s Chris Isadore put it, “the problem for Hertz wasn’t necessarily that the cars were electric, and customers simply do not want to drive electric cars. The problem was how Hertz handled the fleet in general, according to industry analysts.”

Isadore goes on to quote Wedbush Securities analyst as saying that the Hertz rollout was “a horror show.”

A scathing 11-part post on Twitter/X from a year ago details the frustrations of a Hertz customer after renting an EV. It exemplifies the customer-relations challenge the company made for itself. Here's how it starts; it's worth clicking and reading in full:

View post on X

The CNN article also cites such challenges for traveling EV renters as worries about where to charge the EV before returning it and uncertainty as to how long it might take to recharge during a highly scheduled business trip. Such concerns could dissuade even an EV owner from renting away from home.

All this was exacerbated by Hertz enforcing recharging rules the way it enforced refueling rules on its ICE fleet: If you don’t bring it back full, it will cost you.

Tesla price-war casualty?

So, the company eventually read the writing on the wall and decided to sell 100,000 Teslas—but it turned out to be at just the wrong time.

When EV purchasing slowed in 2023, Tesla began a price war, slashing the price of its EVs in order to maintain market share. That, of course, lowered the price one could expect for a used Tesla as well, leading to that $245 hit to the Hertz bottom line.

Hertz under Scherr has faced other challenges as well, but the failure of the company’s EV rollout and helplessness in the wake of Tesla’s price-slashing are the events that the EV industry as a whole will want to study and learn from.

Gil West, former Chief Operating Officer of Delta Airlines and GM’s Cruise unit will become Chief Executive Officer effective April 1, 2024.

About the Author(s)

Michael C. Anderson

Editor-in-Chief, Battery Technology, Informa Markets - Engineering

Battery Technology Editor-in-Chief Michael C. Anderson has been covering manufacturing and transportation technology developments for more than a quarter-century, with editor roles at Manufacturing Engineering, Cutting Tool Engineering, Automotive Design & Production, and Smart Manufacturing. Before all of that, he taught English and literature at colleges in Japan and Michigan.

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