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Hot wheels: Car hire companies add bling

By Daisy Carrington, for CNN
April 22, 2013 -- Updated 0530 GMT (1330 HKT)
Ultra-high-end cars like Lamborghinis and Bentleys are now frequently available for rent alongside the usual roster.
Ultra-high-end cars like Lamborghinis and Bentleys are now frequently available for rent alongside the usual roster.
  • Car rental companies are increasingly offering high-end vehicles
  • These rentals are often used for impressing someone else
  • The luxury cars for rent include Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Bentleys
  • High-end vehicles often come with added perks like chauffeur services

(CNN) -- Making a strong first impression in the corporate world can take more than a power suit and a firm handshake. Nowadays, high-end status symbols like luxury cars are sought after by those seeking a profile boost.

Yet, while a personal Maserati or Lamborghini is out of reach for all but the most well remunerated, car rental companies are increasingly adding high-end vehicles to their lots to cater to those who want more cachet from their hired wheels.

Car companies have been toying with flashy cars for a few years now. Hertz first launched their Prestige Collection in the U.S. in 2001, letting clients choose from a roster of higher-profile automobiles, such as Mercedes and BMWs.

Last year, though, things got a little more exciting, when the company started offering the type of elite vehicles that usually retail for six figures. Models like the Ferrari F430 Spider, Lamborghini Gallardo and Bentley Continental GT started to make an appearance alongside the usual roster of Kias and Fords.

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The ultra-high-end cars are part of Hertz's Supercars, which launched its web booking platform last year, unrolling it in the U.S., UK, France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands. There is relatively limited availability, with fewer than 200 cars on offer in total.

Hertz started toying with high-end rentals in 2011, when it added the Lotus Evora to its collection in Germany, Spain and the UK in just 15 locations, mainly in airports.

We found that people want to rent a luxury car in order to give the impression they are doing well for themselves
Kay Ceille, AvisBudget UK

"We wanted to gauge the appetite for luxury car hire," says Zoë White, a Hertz spokeswoman. Consumers proved ravenous, spurring Hertz to add more posh models in more locales.

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Enterprise Rent-a-Car conducted a similar experiment in the U.S. in 2005, when they launched their Exotic Car Collection in West Los Angeles. It should come as no surprise that rentals of fantasy cars -- think Aston Martin and Bentley convertibles -- would prove popular in a city famously obsessed with image.

Enterprise recently expanded their offerings to a further 13 locations across six U.S. states. They also have the cars on prominent display at Los Angeles International Airport, where some customers upgrade their vehicle on the spot.

Bookings are up, according to Steve Short, Enterprise's vice president of leisure business development, and he says the reasons for booking an expensive, luxury vehicle are myriad.

"We have local customers who want to add a special touch to a big event, out-of-towners who want to enjoy their vacation in style and business travelers who use the cars to entertain clients," Short says.

Even though the last few years have been marked by a global recession, some believe now is the best time to focus on luxury vehicle rentals. According to Kay Ceille, the managing director at AvisBudget UK, it is partly because times are tough that luxury car rentals have become more popular.

"We found that people want to rent a luxury car in order to give the impression they are doing well for themselves," says Ceille. "They want to stand out from the crowd and be taken more seriously."

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Through its market research, AvisBudget found their UK customer base was renting vehicles from their Prestige Collection and Select Series -- fleets comprised of upscale models from brands like Jaguar and BMW -- for the purpose of impressing someone else, under both corporate and personal circumstances.

The company also found that more than a quarter of the customers they surveyed chose to upgrade before a job interview.

Renting these vehicles is expensive by standard rates: a Mercedes SLK Sport can cost more than $200 per day, while a McLaren MP4-12C may fetch upward of $1,300. But compared to actually owning a one, it's a bargain.

Usually, the up-market cars come with added perks, like a chauffeur hire thrown in for free or airport meet-and-greet service. "For customers who want a taste of the millionaire lifestyle, it's value for money," White says.

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