A few months ago, we wrote about a new car rental start-up business called Whitecar with plans to shake up the sector with a far more customer-friendly business model. And as promised, we’ve now had a chance to try it for ourselves to see if the walk matches the talk.
To recap, Whitecar claims to eliminate the misery that is most car rentals by doing all the hard work for you. If you live within a specified radius of their depot, they will deliver and return a shiny new Tesla Model S (the latest facelift model only just going on sale in the UK now), and there is none of the added-cost rubbish that car hire companies put customers through. So how has this promise translated to reality?
Well, if we compare what was promised in May with what has been delivered, it has mostly come good. There have been a couple of changes from what was initially offered: the free collection and delivery radius was originally going to be 50 miles from Heathrow Airport, but that has now been revised down to 25 miles; and the daily cost of £149 has now become £169. The free delivery/collection radius change might be a pain for anyone living 25-50 miles from Heathrow, but for everyone else it’s not an issue.
The pricing is still very competitive with other rental companies offering luxury saloons like a Mercedes-Benz E-Class or similar (no-one else is currently offering a Tesla for rental). We speculated back in May that the pricing seemed “exceptionally cheap” and that it might increase, so it is no surprise that it has crept up by £20/day.
Whitecar has already increased its fleet to cope with demand, with a sixth new Model S complementing the original five vehicles before the official launch has even taken place.
The Whitecar rental experience
Other than those two caveats, Whitecar seems to have delivered on its promises. My white Tesla arrived on my doorstep on time, with a very polite and knowledgeable White Car representative named Tom who ran through the specifics of the Tesla and even offered a quick familiarisation drive. The Tesla works quite differently to a petrol or diesel cars in many respects, so it was helpful to be guided through the quirks of the Model S before Tom signed the car over to me and disappeared.
One of the things we discussed was charging infrastructure (see below), and not long after Tom left, I received a text message from him advising that a new public charge point had recently opened about a mile from me if it was of any help. It was a very nice touch which enhanced the customer experience.
When my allocated Tesla time was over, Tom arrived at my office on time to collect the vehicle, and was happy to chat about the car and my experience rather than simply signing a form and grabbing the keys. It was certainly unlike any other car rental experience I have ever had, and hopefully Whitecar continues this approach once the opening honeymoon period is over.
As of right now, the company still in a soft launch phase and bookings are being taken via phone or email. Even so, business appears to be strong based on the difficulties I had getting a slot, which is a good sign for the business. The website booking system and smartphone app are set to go live in early September.
Obviously, Whitecar is not trying to compete with the budget end of the rental market. The company offers one model, which is a very large five-seat saloon (and they do have one car with the optional rear-facing third row seats), and a premium customer experience. But given their target market, their offering seems very good value.
A whole new set of charges
Being an electric vehicle, the issue of charging will be a key part of the rental consideration. The car arrived with 200 miles of range remaining, which was more than enough for my needs, but if you are planning a longer trip then you need to schedule charging into your journey.
On the plus side, charging at a Tesla Supercharger station is free, so you could potentially cover hundreds of miles during your rental and pay nothing at all for fuel. This could be a significant cost saving if you are racking up the miles on your trip.
On the minus side, I live and work absolutely nowhere near a Tesla Supercharger station, and they are still thin on the ground in the UK at this time. And if you are not using a Supercharger, then your charging will probably not be free and may involve finding available public charging stations or very slow charging on a regular wall socket.
At least the Tesla Model S gives plenty of range, so for most customers there won’t be an urgent need to stop for electricity at every opportunity like there is with lesser electric vehicles. And if you are renting a car for pleasure rather than business, you probably have plenty of time to work the necessary charging stops into your journey without much fuss.
The satnav system – part of a giant 17-inch touchscreen – has information about charging locations, so you can easily find the nearest location. For our purposes, it was no hassle at all. As it turned out, the drive we took went reasonably close to a Supercharger, so we diverted there to give the car about ten minutes’ worth of electricity and see how it all worked in practice. It was completely effortless, helped by the fact that there were two available spots and both were free.
The concept of a more personalised, customer-friendly, fully-delivered car hire business will be welcomed by almost anyone who has had to go through the hassle of renting a car. The fact that the car on offer is the futuristic Tesla Model S further improves the experience. The pricing, although higher than initially indicated, is still very good and offers an excellent alternative to the usual alternatives.
We will have a review of the car itself in coming weeks, but in short the Tesla Model S is fantastic, fast, fabulous and flawed. But it’s vastly preferable to droning around in a regular diesel luxury saloon, and if you don’t want to buy one then it’s certainly worth renting for a few days.
Based on our experience, it’s fair to say that Whitecar has started off very well. Assuming all goes to plan, the company expects to add more locations and vehicles over the next year, so drivers around the UK will hopefully get their chance to rent a Tesla very soon.