You all know by now how much the CleanTechnica team LOVES electric vehicles. So when we headed to Austin, TX, last month for a team retreat (and the Electrify Expo event – North America’s largest electric vehicle festival), we couldn’t drive around just any rental car. It had to be an EV. Thankfully our friends at UFODRIVE hooked us up with a Tesla for the weekend*.
After years of getting it right in Europe, UFODRIVE is an international company getting traction in the US as the first all-digital, all-electric car rental company. We were thrilled to give it a whirl in Austin and whirl we did.
CleanTechnica’s founder, Scott Cooney, and our CEO, Zach Shahan, both know Teslas inside an out, as seasoned Tesla (and other EV) owners. They each recently published their respective three-year reviews of Tesla ownership (check out Scott’s here and Zach’s here). So we weren’t first-time EV drivers, but rather, first time EV rental car users.
We downloaded the UFODRIVE app, which is required to reserve, pick up, drop off, unlock, and drive the EVs. The process of getting registered on the app was relatively painless, though they do require multiple forms of ID and proof of address, so give yourself a little time to get that set up. Though once the account has been created and validated (the validation part was super quick), using the app itself is a breeze. UFODRIVE is available 24/7 and you can swiftly and easily make reservations directly through the app in just a few minutes. No more dealing with those long lines at the rental car counter nor the piled up paperwork. Rental car users rejoice!
We struggled a bit to find the pick-up location, though we were able to quickly get a live person on the UFODRIVE customer service line who was friendly and extremely helpful in getting us to the car. We located the Tesla (branded wildly with UFODRIVE logos, we were amused to see), unlocked the vehicle with no issue, and got on the road in minutes. There were great notifications and reminders along the way from the app, like when the car’s charging level was low.
We had some trouble with the Tesla driver settings off the bat, as the seat positioning, steering wheel angle, etc., were all programed in some way that no matter how we moved the seat around and saved driver settings, the settings would default to the programming and move the seat and steering wheel back automatically. Even the Tesla experts in the group couldn’t figure out how to override this programming, so there were a few profanities muttered each time someone got in the driver’s seat.
Aside from that, the Tesla driving experience was just like that with any other Tesla Model 3: zippy, fast as hell, comfortable, responsive, zero emissions, and zero need to stop at a gas station. At last you can rent an electric car (!!!), completely digitally, without the headache of rental car counters, without worrying about filling the tank when you return it, and – we’ll say it again – without emissions!
One issue we did experience was that the area of town we happened to be staying in had pretty crappy cell phone service. This meant the UFODRIVE app was often slow or didn’t work at all, which is problematic, as you need the app to be online in order to unlock and drive the EV. We thought perhaps a key card left inside the car once you pick up the rental would be smart for the times that cell service is a challenge, so you can unlock and drive the car without the use of the app. Though we know UFODRIVE is relatively new in the United States, so these sorts of kinks will get worked out along the way.
UFODRIVE provides a charging card, so you don’t pay a dime for charging, and the app has a feature to help you locate associated charging stations nearby. For some reason, we couldn’t get the charging card to work at a public charging station (definitely could have been user error in that case), but later on, we found a Tesla supercharging station using the app’s charger locator feature and were able to charge up (so fast!) with no problem.
Overall, we had a blast with our UFODRIVE electric vehicle. We even turned some heads at the Electrify Expo, which could have been due to the bombastic UFODRIVE branding on the vehicle, but we like to think people were excited to see an electric rental car. It was fun to hear the CleanTechnica team wax poetic about EVs and their experiences driving electric over the years, as we zipped around Austin in our rented Tesla. The UFODRIVE staff, from start to finish, were delightful, helpful, responsive, and went out of their way to be sure we had a great experience renting an EV. The app is easy to use, intuitive, and made reserving and driving simple.
The next time we’re in need of a rental car in an UFODRIVE city, we’ll be all over it. We can’t wait for UFODRIVE to expand in the US and internationally so everyone can rent an EV when needed. Check to see if UFODRIVE is in your city here.
*UFODrive provided the CleanTechnica team a rental EV free of charge during our stay in Austin.
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