Skift Take

As the economy improves, demand for luxury rentals is picking up, and Enterprise is upping its game for this segment.

For $250 a day, Houston attorney Scott Jacobson is driving around town in a gray 2013 Mercedes S550 while his own car is in the shop.

Jacobson, 32, was surprised to find the luxury brand vehicle available at an Enterprise Rent-A-Car in Houston after he had an accident in his BMW M5 this month. This was his first time renting from Enterprise’s “exotic car collection.”

“I can’t believe it took this long to figure out these products would be popular,” Jacobson said.

He said the luxury brand cars available at the Enterprise on Old Katy Road in west Houston — which range from sedans and coupes to sport utility vehicles — are convenient for people who own luxury cars, those from out of town who want to ride in style and for those who want to test vehicles someone might be interested in buying.

He also said a luxury vehicle rental would make a great gift — something the Missouri-based company is hoping will catch on this holiday season. On its website for Houston, it touts the luxury rentals as gifts.

Enterprise, the nation’s largest rental company, traditionally offers less flashy vehicles. But it has responded to a growing demand for luxury rentals around the country.

Enterprise spokesman Greg Phillips said the exotic car collection launched in 2006 in Southern California.

The fleet includes 40 makes and models, he said. As the demand for luxury vehicles increased, the company recently expanded to 13 locations in six states. Houston, the most recent location, was added in September 2012.

Strong demand

The Old Katy Road location in Houston, the only Enterprise in the city offering these cars, has seen strong demand for them, company officials said.

In Houston, rates range from $200 to $350 a day depending on the type of vehicle.

The most popular vehicles locally are the Mercedes-Benz S550, the Audi A8 and the BMW 750. Porsche coupes, Cadillac Escalades and Range Rovers are also available.

“We do see them as a gifts for people looking to enjoy a night in style,” Phillips said. “The holidays would lend itself to that.”

Renting from the exotic collection also offers customers “white glove service.”

For all rentals, Enterprise offers to pick up its clients and take them to the closest location to rent one a car. With the luxury rental, however, the vehicle is delivered to the customer’s door.

‘A big market’

Phillips said the initiative started because of a demand from customers who wanted to rent luxury vehicles for special occasions or for vacations. Houston was selected as a Texas location because of its good rental market, he said.

“It’s a big market with a lot of travelers,” he said. “It made sense for the business for sure.”

Rental turnaround

The car rental industry in the U.S. made a comeback last year after a downturn that started in 2008, according to Auto Rental News data.

Sharon Faulkner, executive director of American Car Rental Association, a New York-based industry group, said the demand for exotic cars has accelerated in the last six months.

“It’s obvious to me it’s an ongoing and profitable area,” she said.

Traditionally, such rentals were popular in tourist destinations like Florida and California. She attributes this uptick in demand in part to an improved economy in which consumers are willing to spend more.

Fits with trend

Kit Yarrow, professor of business and psychology at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, said giving a car lover the experience of owning an expensive car seems like a great idea.

“There’s been a recent shift in consumers toward more temporary or shared ownership” of everything from bicycles to cars to apartments to dogs, Yarrow said.

“This also fits nicely into that new consumer mentality.”

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Tags: enterprise, luxury

Photo Credit: A 1957 Chevy Bel Air was the first car Enterprise Rent A Car rented to a customer. Today it has more than 1 million vehicles in its fleet, and is seeing increasing demand for luxury cars. Enterprise