Maui’s Bio-Beetle expanding to West Coast
A local company that rents biodiesel-powered cars is moving into L.A.
Maui-based Bio-Beetle Inc., which touts itself as the only 100 percent biodiesel-powered rental-car business in the United States, announced yesterday it is tripling its inventory and expanding into California.
Shaun Stenshol, owner of Bio-Beetle and Maui Recycling Service Inc., started the company in 2003 with a fleet of just four rental cars to make his corner of the world more self-sustaining by providing a vehicle that could reduce the use of fossil fuels. All of Stenshol's cars run on 100 percent recycled vegetable oil.
Now, Stenshol has eight rental cars on Maui and four in Los Angeles, his first major breakout market. By next year, he plans to have a car rental office in San Francisco and a franchise in Austin, Texas. Eventually, he envisions having franchises and offices in Seattle, Phoenix and Portland, Ore.
"This is a huge step for the company," said Stenshol, who also became the majority owner of Maui Recycling Service in 2000. He has just begun to see profits at the Maui branch of Bio-Beetle since taking back management of his rentals from subcontractors.
"The key is we're going to start small, like we did in Maui, and then grow," he said. "That's what works for us."
Offering a biodiesel rental car has been a longtime dream of both Stenshol, a former Greenpeace worker and environmental activist, and his girlfriend and business partner, Pamela Miedtke-Wolf.
"I discovered biodiesel cars in 1998 and I was hooked," said Stenshol, who once gave up driving for seven years rather than operate cars that ran on fossil fuels.
The couple, who said they are constantly looking for ways to make Maui and the planet more self-sustaining, drives biodiesel-powered vehicles and strives to live with zero waste.
"Making Bio-Beetle a reality was just another way to show what we can do, right now, to help the planet," Stenshol said.
The almost immediate success of their business venture has shown the couple that they aren't alone -- environmentally conscious consumers are a growing market.
"There are a lot of businesses that have missed the boat on green technology because they don't understand that there is truly a market out there," Stenshol said. "We don't really advertise, so the fact that we can exist is proof positive that one exists."
Many tourists like the novelty of renting an environmentally friendly car from the company, whose slogan is "Give the planet a vacation the next time you take one, rent the Bio-Beetle!" Some people rent the cars to see what it would be like to drive one before they make a commitment to purchase one. And others simply want to do their part for the environment.
"Demand is heavy, our cars pretty much stay on the road," Stenshol said. "Drivers say they feel like celebrities because the cars attract so much attention."
Each car, which is emblazoned with the Bio-Beetle logo, rents for between $199 and $299 a week, with daily rates starting at $49.99, he said.
The cars operate about the same as a standard vehicle but generally get more miles to the gallon, a plus with today's gas prices, Stenshol said.
They aren't for everyone, though, as biodiesel fuel is not readily available in all markets. On Maui, Bio-Beetle drivers can fill up near the airport; starting soon they'll be able to refuel at the Bio-Beetle rental office.
Stenshol and his California management team of Joe Blackburn and Vince Ivory are still working out the fueling logistics for Los Angeles customers. Right now, biodiesel fill-ups in Los Angeles are by appointment only at one filling station.
"We have cars that get 600 or 700 miles per tank, but we have to be careful when customers want to rent them to go farther distances," Stenshol said. "We don't want customers to fill up with petroleum. We didn't start this company for people to use fossil fuels."