By INA PAIVA CORDLE
The Miami Herald
---- — MIAMI — Nothing quite impresses an out-of-town client like whisking him around town in a flashy Ferrari, sleek Lamborghini or other hot luxury car.
So when real estate broker Patricia Delinois picked up client Robert Kiger to show him multimillion dollar properties on Fisher Island, near Miami, she rented a black Rolls-Royce Phantom for the ride.
“It was fantastic,” said Kiger, who lives in Wellington, Fla., and owns two Elegante Polo stores. “I felt like a king.”
Celebrities, music moguls, wealthy Russian and Brazilian tourists, business people, athletes and other car enthusiasts are increasingly topping off their Miami experience by slipping behind the wheel of a luxury or exotic car _ rented by the day, week or month.
“Our VIP clients love it,” said Delinois, broker-owner of Century 21 Premier Elite Realty, who rents the cars from Lou La Vie, in Miami. “What we are trying to create is a fun, trendy, different experience that they will get only in Miami.”
South Florida has long been a leading market for sales of luxury and exotic cars, with the area’s dealers ranking at or near the top in their industry, nationwide. And now that love affair is extending to rentals, with less of a commitment required.
Without a doubt, the luxury car rental market is revving up. New showrooms are opening, more high-end cars are being added to firms’ fleets, and the once mostly seasonal business is becoming busy year-round, fueled in large part by wealthy foreign tourists.
Despite barriers such as the high cost of inventory — a single car can cost $400,000) — astronomical business insurance rates costing up to hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, and the occasional need to bail speed-happy customers out of jail, Miami-area companies report revenues are up by as much as 33 percent year-over-year.
“You can’t drive a Ferrari convertible through the streets of Brazil,” said Lou La Vie co-owner and President John Temerian. “So people are coming here to enjoy themselves. And how synonymous is a convertible with Miami Beach?”
For rates generally starting at below $300 and reaching as high as $2,500 or more per day, companies like Lou La Vie will hand over the keys to luxury and exotic cars, including Porsches, Bentleys and Lamborghinis.
Jamie Foxx is a regular whenever he visits Miami, Temerian said, often choosing a red Ferrari. Spanish soccer star Karim Benzema recently rented a Lamborghini for a week.
The rapper T.I. opted for an Escalade with a chauffeur a few weeks ago, and actor Leonardo DiCaprio rented a Bentley about a year and a half ago, both from Carefree Lifestyle in South Beach, said co-owner and President Anthony R. Marotta.
“This season, starting in December, was the busiest season we’ve had in 10 years,” Marotta said, citing revenue from cars, as well as homes, yachts and other luxury items.
Politicians and royal families need fancy wheels, too. Prestige Luxury Rentals in Miami recently rented two Range Rovers to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for his security detail and for himself.
And a few months ago, a Saudi prince wanted 200 Escalades for his family and friends, after flying in on a private Boeing 747, said Roc Collado, business development manager for Prestige Luxury Rentals.
To fill the order, local companies partnered together, and came up with 70 Escalades, 70 Mercedes and a few dozen Range Rovers.
“The recession didn’t really affect the clientele we have renting the vehicles,” Collado said. “The money just kind of moves around — at one point it is a lot of Russians, then a lot of Brazilians. The money doesn’t disappear; it just moves. Right now, it’s the Russians, Brazilians and Venezuelans.”
In fact, tourists of every ilk are driving luxury rental car companies’ revenue, and perhaps nowhere more so than in South Florida.
“Anywhere where there is heavy tourist traffic is where you will see luxury travel rental companies,” said Sharon Faulkner, executive director of the American Car Rental Association, based in Albany, N.Y.
The concentration of luxury car rentals, she said, is in Florida, California, Las Vegas, and, for the less sporty vehicles, New York.
“It just follows that since the economy is getting better, so is the demand for luxury items,” Faulkner said. “The consumer can’t afford to own it, but can still afford to rent it.”
Even Hertz is getting in on the game. The company has been slowly adding high-end vehicles into its fleet in the past year, said spokeswoman Paula Rivera. The cars are only available at select destinations.
“When you see a major company like Hertz growing that part of their market, it would say the demand is there,” Faulkner said.
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