Car rental agency carves a biodiesel niche

One of the biodiesel rental cars offered by Bio-Beetle is displayed at a biodiesel conference last month in San Diego.
One of the biodiesel rental cars offered by Bio-Beetle is displayed at a biodiesel conference last month in San Diego.Bio-Beetle Eco Rental Cars
/ Source: staff and news service reports

A company offering rental cars powered entirely by biodiesel has set up shop in Los Angeles, hoping to bring the aroma of popcorn and doughnuts to the city’s smoggy freeways.

Just one snag — it knows of only one place in town to fill up with 100 percent biodiesel, which can be made from restaurant grease as well as certain farm grains.

Bio-Beetle Eco Rental Cars, which started out on the Hawaiian island of Maui three years ago, opened for business near Los Angeles International Airport on Tuesday with four cars fueled by filtered vegetable oil.

“I’ve always wanted to come to Los Angeles,” said founder Shaun Stenshol. “California is known as an environmentally friendly state and L.A. is the car capital of the world. What better place to do biodiesel than Los Angeles?”

“As far as biodiesel rental cars, I don’t know of anyone else doing it in the world,” said Stenshol, a former Greenpeace activist whose company's slogan is: “Give the planet a vacation the next time you take one.”

‘Pleasant tang,’ not grease
Biodiesel does have a distinctive, some would say greasy, odor but Stenshol smells it differently.

“There are people who say it smells like popcorn, or french fries or doughnuts. But to me it is just a pleasant tang,” he said.

In a statement announcing the venture, co-owner Pamela Miedtke-Wolf looked beyond the benefits of fewer emissions of carbon dioxide, a gas that may scientists tie to global warming.

“Besides the obvious less polluting benefits ... the renter is saying that they would rather support American farmers than the oil industry and the wars that are fought for that oil, plus they are doing something pro active to help prevent things like drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and being part of oil spills like Exxon Valdez.”

Biodiesel costs $3.45 a gallon — about $1 more than regular gas — but the cars can travel between 400 and 800 miles per tank depending on which vehicle is rented and driving conditions.

There is only one place where customers can fill up with 100 percent biodiesel, but Stenshol said he hoped to help set up other refueling stations in the Los Angeles metro area.

‘Very angry’ if renters use diesel
Weekly rental rates for the biodiesel Beetles, as well as biodiesel Jettas and Passats, start at $199, the company said.

Joe Blackburn, the company’s West Coast manager, said the company plans to add vehicles as well as agency locations, but he would not get into specifics.

The rental vehicles are standard diesel Volkswagens, he added, and while technically renters could fill up with regular diesel without damaging the cars the company rental contract forbids that.

“It’s against our morality” as an environmentally friendly company, he said. “We’d be very angry about that.”