There's a chance now for the middle class to feel like movie stars. 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 stalwarts are 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," says Vince Sample, location manager for Beverly Hills Rent-A-Car in Las Vegas. And it's one that wows: "People stop and stare," he says. "They ask, 'Can I take a picture?' They want to see if it's someone famous."
Here are some of the high-end rentals available at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
Avis Signature Series: BMW models, Cadillac XTS
Budget Street Fleet: BMW models
Hertz Dream Cars: BMW models, Jaguar XJL, Land Rover Range Rover Sport, Mercedes-Benz models
Sample's firm — which has worked with royals, famous singers and casino whales — will deliver a $900-per-day candy-apple-red Ferrari California or a $2,200-per-day Rolls-Royce Wraith directly to the customer. There's no license-plate frame to mark it as a rental.
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 Seattle.
Enterprise's Exotic Collection operates in 13 locations, though not yet in Seattle.
Budget offers a range of BMWs and American sports cars in its Street Fleet. Avis has a similar selection in its Signature Series, although the finest vehicles are found in the Avis Prestige collection in Europe.
Sharon Faulkner, executive director of the American Car Rental Association, says the growth in the upscale rental market differs from years past because it's no longer limited to beach and tourist towns.
Enterprise's move into the exotics market in 2006 came as customers started asking for more rarefied vehicles — ones beyond the realm of the company's existing luxury collection of Lincolns and Cadillacs. Last year, the number of rental days within the exotic collection jumped 50 percent, according to Steve Short, Enterprise's vice president of leisure business development.
"There's probably some demand that was out there that wasn't being met," he says.
Manufacturers have been supportive of high-end rentals, Short says, because they're a chance to introduce new models to well-heeled potential buyers. Some customers view a high-end rental as an extended test drive — a small investment to make before sinking thousands of dollars into a car.
"When you get into a test drive, it's short, you're excited, it smells good, you're not thinking of everything you need to be thinking about it," Faulkner says. "If you can spend a weekend with it, you get a much better idea of whether it's the car for you."
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 the car.
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," says Short. "We don't see people drag racing."