REVIEW: UFODRIVE - Electric Vehicle App Based Car Rental
As an EV (Electric Vehicle) reviewer, I came across UFODRIVE.com when it launched in Dublin in Q2 of 2019. I was intrigued. A car rental company with a difference. Firstly, they only rent EVs. Secondly, they allow you to rent Teslas. Thirdly, everything is done through an app with zero interaction with another person (in this era of COVID-19, another positive feature).
I’ve now rented with UFODRIVE twice and happy to write about my experiences below. Both previous rentals with UFODrive were for personal use which I paid for myself and were not complimentary from UFODrive to write this review.
The inspiration to create UFODRIVE.com struck the Irish CEO, Aidan McClean after many frustrating car rental experiences. His experience motivated him to solve a problem he knows many busy travelers are facing every day.
“Following another particularly poor customer experience at a major European Airport involving a long queue at the car rental booth, confusing insurance and extras options, pushy sales reps, a slow paper-based process and then trying to find the car, which wasn’t the model ordered, I decided there was going to be a better way!. When I returned the car, I was hit with more unexpected extra charges. The whole rental cost double what was advertised – I had enough!”
Partnering with COO, Renaud Marquet, they set out to examine the car rental business in detail and understand what customers really want. In tandem they studied the coming revolution in electric cars. By combining the smartphone revolution with the coming electric car revolution, UFODRIVE.com has developed something unique. Their car rental locations – the ‘UFO Landing Bays’ – are where you can arrive and drive – all with just your smartphone.
The beauty of this experience starts when setting up the account. As this is all done through the app available for iPhone or Android. You add you personal details, official ID, driving licence and credit card. I am sure someone has to eyeball the information and once everything matches and is approved, you can start booking your vehicle. I found this process simple and easy. There is a referral scheme but you actually have to know the person and add their number rather than throwing codes around the place. I like this personal connection model.
Booking Your Car
As mentioned above, everything is done through the app. UFODrive is currently available in 15 location in 8 countries with further expansion on the horizon. Models available range from the new Nissan LEAF, Hyundai Kona and Tesla Model 3. You can also book all the way up to the Tesla Model S, Audi E-Tron and Jaguar I-Pace. At the time of writing this review, Dublin has a Hyundai Kona, some Tesla Model 3s and some Tesla Model Ss.
I can see from the site that they plan on adding other EVs including the Tesla Roadster, Tesla CyberTruck, Porsche Taycan, Mercedes EQC, Polestar 2 and even some of the Volkswagen I.D. range. You select the dates (remembering that rentals are best value in 24hr blocks), the model available and how much mileage you think you need. This is an all inclusive agreement so fuel or electricity in the case, is covered. The final stage is whether you want to cover the excess of take the risk on yourself.
This obviously depends on the model you rent. It all starts the same way with good directional signage to the UFODrive area. In Dublin whether you arrive by foot or with a different vehicle. The UFODrive “Landing Bay” is based in Q-Park Stephens Green which is the multistorey carpark that serves the Royal College of Surgeons and The St Stephens Green Shopping Centre.
Your smartphone will unlock your car, automatically activate your rental agreement and perform the car inspection. This is all done in a matter of seconds. The process is very smooth. Cars can be picked up or dropped off 24/7 and there is a customer support line if you need any help but on both occasions I did not. You then simply unplug if the car is plugged in and drive out. The car park entry and exit is covered with a windscreen tag which also covers you on any of the motorways tolls.
You get a number of charge cards in the pack in the glove compartment and I only ever used the ESB eCars card on some rapid chargers around the country. The car also comes with a three pin plug charging cable if you need to charge at a destination that does not have a charger installed. I used this on both occasions as the hotel I stayed in on the last rental still did not have a destination chargers. The management said they were getting prices to install some as “there are a lot more drivers of electric vehicles checking in”. The second rental we stayed with family where again there were no home chargers installed.
As everything is done through the app, you need to make sure your phone has charge and also don’t forget to download the “Virtual Key” to your phone so you can gain access and start the car if you are in locations with patchy or no phone coverage. The app allows you to lock and unlock the car, shows the start of charge and also guides you through the starting the rental, driving around and then the return. The App will help you find charges if the car does not have this function built in to it’s own infotainment system,
This is v2.0 of the UFODRIVE App and I have only experienced this version. See the video above to show the different screens.
I rented a Tesla Model 3 on the first occasion and my partner and I loved the whole experience. It was a real treat for 3 days as we travelled to see both of our families based in the midlands and the far West of Ireland. The second rental was for 24hr and we decided on the Tesla Model S. I will have a more detailed review on both EVs coming soon but we have to say we both preferred the more compact Model 3.
Returning The Car
Again, another benefit of the service is the ease of returning the car. Driving back to Q-Park Stephen Green, the barrier goes up because of the windscreen tag and you follow the directions to the same area you started the rental. You reverse in and then follow the onscreen instructions in the app to check to make sure you did not leave any belongings after yourself, did you turn off the car (being electric it can be easily done when there’s no engine sound) and finally you plug in the car to start charging it for the next rental.
Once of the nicest features was the notification I received in the app as I was walking away. The system works out how many kgs of CO2 you have saved by driving an EV and they also allocate credit towards your next rental which I think is a really nice touch on both counts.
Overall, I really think this service is superb. It’s mainly based around airport car hire locations but as we can see from Dublin, it can work in a city center locations too. For those who will use the service on a more regular basis, they recently launched a members club and for enterprise level rental, they also offer an EV fleet service.
I look forward to the day where other large cities in Ireland can support the investment with local demand and I also look forward to Dublin Airport supporting this Irish CEO and allowing the service to be based at the airport like other European cities. As I’m publishing this during the COVID-19 crisis, I look forward to when we can take unnecessary journeys and I know I’ll be booking them through UFODrive.