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Car rental companies ramp up exotic offerings

Associated Press

LAS VEGAS - There's a chance now for the middle class to feel like movie stars. Or for a movie star to feel like a movie star away from home.

In the past few years, some of the biggest car rental companies have added the finest cars money can buy to their fleets. Alongside the practical Toyotas and Fords are Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Bentleys, Aston Martins and Teslas, to name a few.

They don't come cheaply, of course. But, in some ways, that's beside the point.

"We try to sell a lifestyle, not just an exotic vehicle," said Vince Sample, location manager for Beverly Hills Rent A Car in Las Vegas. And it's one that wows: "People stop and stare. They ask, 'Can I take a picture?' They want to see if it's someone famous."

As the recession fades to a memory, independent rental companies in flashy cities such as Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Miami Beach aren't the only ones offering the high-end rides. The big firms are doing it, too, and in places less known for glamour.

Last summer, Hertz launched its Dream Cars line in 35 locations, including Pittsburgh and Milwaukee. Enterprise's Exotic Collection, which launched in Southern California, operates in 13 locations and is planning to open West Hollywood and Atlanta branches later this spring. Budget offers a range of BMWs and American sports cars in its Street Fleet and Avis has similar selection in its Signature Series, although the finest vehicles are found in the Avis Prestige collection in Europe.

Manufacturers have been supportive of the exotic rentals because they're a chance to introduce new models to well-heeled potential buyers, said Steve Short, Enterprise's vice president of leisure business development. Some customers view a high-end rental as an extended test drive - a small investment to make before sinking hundreds of thousands of dollars into a car.

For rental companies, the exotics sector requires an extra level of care. Businesses do more extensive detailing on the vehicles, drop them off at the customer's doorstep at odd hours and require large deposits or an insurance plan fit to replace a car the price of a house.

But what many dealers say hasn't been a concern is customers taking their luxurious loaners on reckless joyrides.

"When their own insurance is on the hook, they treat these cars like they treat their own cars," said Short. "We don't see people drag racing."

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