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Car rental companies to offer electric Nissan Leafs

Also: TSA reiterates that its full-body scanners can't save images, and bag maker Armpocket offers store credit to Spirit Airlines passengers who pay carry-on fees.

August 09, 2010|By Hugo Martín, Los Angeles Times

Beginning as early as January, electric cars will be available at the nation's two largest auto rental companies.

Enterprise Rent-A-Car, North America's largest car rental firm, unveiled plans last week to offer about 500 Nissan Leaf all-electric cars, initially at dealerships in Los Angeles, San Diego, Portland and Seattle.

The announcement came a few months after Hertz , the world's largest car rental company, said it planned to offer Nissan Leafs at a handful of locations in the U.S. and Europe, including New York, Washington and San Francisco, next year. A fully charged Leaf has a range of about 100 miles.

Hertz and Enterprise already offer hybrid models such as the Toyota Prius.

But some questions about renting electric cars have yet to be answered.

For example, representatives for each company say the price of renting a Leaf will probably be higher than the rates for traditional gas-burning vehicles. But they have yet to announce exact rates.

"The details are still being worked out," said Lee Broughton, director of sustainability for Enterprise.

Perhaps a bigger concern for travelers who rent electric cars is whether they would have to pay a penalty for returning the vehicles with depleted batteries.

It is a key question because fully recharging a Leaf takes up to eight hours at a charging station and 20 hours from a standard home outlet.

If travelers don't have time to recharge an electric rental car before returning it, the rental firm must take the vehicle out of service to recharge it. Enterprise and Hertz representatives said they were still working out a solution.

TSA says its full-body scanners can't save images

The Transportation Security Administration was on the defensive last week after news broke that the U.S. Marshals Service stored thousand of revealing images from a full-body scanner at a courthouse checkpoint — but not at the airport — in Orlando.

The TSA, which is adding 450 full-body scanners at airports across the country, has insisted that the units cannot save or send any of the images. The scanner at the courthouse was built by a different manufacturer.

"As we've stated from the beginning, TSA has not, will not and the machines cannot store images of passengers at airports," the agency said in a blog post.

Such scanners bounce radio waves or X-rays off a person, creating what resembles a nude image, to reveal any weapons hidden under clothes.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a public interest research center in Washington that is suing to stop the TSA from using the scanners at airports, said it obtained hundreds of the images that the Marshals Service had saved from the courthouse scanner.

The Marshals Service responded to the controversy, saying the images are so grainy that you can't tell if the subject is a man or a woman. A representative said the service would continue to store the images as part of a testing period for the scanner.

Bag maker offers credit to Spirit passengers who pay carry-on fees

Spirit Airlines, the no-frills Florida carrier, began Aug. 1 to charge passengers a fee for bringing carry-on luggage, and already another business from the Sunshine State is trying to capitalize on the move.

Florida-based Armpocket Enterprises, the makers of hands-free carrying cases for iPhones and other electronic devices, has offered to reimburse any passenger who has been charged the fee. The carry-on charge, for items too large to fit under seats, is $30 if paid online or $45 at the gate.

But the refund from Armpocket comes in the form of a store credit and only during the month of August.

"This is a win-win for travelers," Mark Morgan, co-founder of Armpocket, said in a statement. "We're fully crediting them for the cost of these ridiculous fines."

To get the deal, Spirit customers must send a Twitter message to Armpocket or an e-mail to info@armpocket.com with proof of the airline charge. A spokeswoman for Armpocket said it was too early to say how many people applied for the credit.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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