Nothing quite impresses an out-of-town client like whisking him around Miami 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, she rented a black Rolls-Royce Phantom for the ride.
It was fantastic, said Kiger, who lives in Wellington 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 local 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 in South Florida. 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 up to hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, and the occasional need to bail speed-happy customers out of jail, local companies report revenues are up by as much as 33 percent year-over-year.
You cant 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, local companies like Lou La Vie, Carefree Lifestyle in South Beach and Prestige Luxury Rentals near Miami International Airport 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, said co-owner and President Anthony R. Marotta.
This season, starting in December, was the busiest season weve 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 didnt 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 doesnt disappear; it just moves. Right now, its 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, New York.
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 cant 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, including Miami International Airport.
When you see a major company like Hertz growing that part of their market, it would say the demand is there, Faulkner said.
In Miami, Hertz now offers about a dozen luxury cars, including a Lamborghini Gallardo, Ferrari F430, Mercedes Benz SLS AMG GT and Aston Martin Vantage. Just in the last two months, it has added several Porsches: a 911 Carrera, Boxster, Panamera, Cayenne and Cayenne Turbo.
We have seen solid demand for our high-end cars, and weve been very pleased with how customers have been receiving them, Rivera said. During peak season it is common for us to hit capacity for reservations. And when there are cars available that havent been rented ahead of time, they are quickly snatched up at the counter.
Hertzs luxury rentals range from about $250 to $1,500 a day, plus insurance, taxes and airport fees, she said. A lot of folks will say they dont have these types of cars where they are from so it makes it even more appealing. Rivera added.
Among other rental car companies, Lou La Vie has operated since 2010, first in Lake Park, in Palm Beach County, then through a partnership with Warren Henry Leasing in Bal Harbour. Last month it expanded, opening a retail showroom at 1444 Biscayne Blvd. in Miami.
The timing was right, with the economy improving and demand for luxury and exotic cars rising, said Temerian, who has seen a 20 percent increase in demand in sports and exotic car rental just in the past six months.
With white walls lined with art for sale by Leonardo Hidalgo, Lou La Vies showroom is filled with shiny luxury and exotic cars, like a red Ferrari 458 Spider, which retails for about $400,000, said Temerian, 28, whose family has been in the luxury car business since the 1960s. His grandfather owned an exotic car dealership in Springfield, Mass., and his father was a mechanic for exotic cars in Lake Park.
In all, Lou La Vie (French slang for Rent the Life,) has a fleet of 20 cars, worth $3 million, all of which it owns and insures.
There are a massive amount of companies that dont own their vehicles and dont have insurance, Temerian said.
Other models in Lou La Vies fleet include a Nissan GTR which he said can go from zero to 60 in 2.9 seconds; a Lamborghini LP560; a Porsche Panamera GTS and a Range Rover Supercharged.
Daily rates range from $299 a day to $2,850 a day; from $2,093 to $18,500 weekly; and $6,279 to $50,000 monthly.
Many of the companys clients are foreign nationals, as well as athletes, celebrities, and music industry people, who are here for business or pleasure.
Its not just renting a car, its tailoring it to peoples lifestyles, Temerian said.
Once, a client with a second home on one of the Sunset Islands in Miami Beach rented a blue Lamborghini for three days and only drove it five miles.
He just wanted the car to sit in the driveway while he was here, Temerian said.
The cars have been used in music videos, as well.
I dont think theres a place in the world like Miami, and what better place to have a beautiful convertible? Temerian said. It goes back to the days of Miami Vice. It has a very long history.
Dennis Cunningham, chief executive of Juno Beach-based BidABuilder.com, rents luxury cars from Lou La Vie when his private equity investors come to town from California or Brazil.
Once it was a Ferrari 430 Spider convertible, another time it was a Rolls-Royce.
A happy investor is a liberal investor, said Cunningham, who lives in Jupiter.
Lou La Vie also continues to operate a satellite office at Warren Henry on the third floor of the Bal Harbour Shops.
Its an opportunity for clients that may not be in the marketplace today to buy a vehicle, said Erik Day, vice president and chief financial officer of Warren Henry Auto Group. I can refer them to Lou La Vie for an opportunity to get behind the wheel of a vehicle which may lead to a future sale for us.
In South Florida, some car rental companies have been operating for nearly a decade or longer.
Walk by Carefree Lifestyles South Beach offices at 1031 Fifth St., where Rolls-Royces, Bentleys, Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Maseratis are parked side-by-side, and youll likely see tourists standing next to the cars, using them as the backdrops for photos.
Weve become a tourist attraction, said Marotta, 40, who moved here from New York in 2000 and started the business the following year with his brother Gary, 48, with one car and one limousine.
In a matter of months after opening, they realized there was demand for other services to complete the Miami lifestyle experience, and began providing waterfront mansions, yachts, bodyguards and chefs, along with exotic cars.
Today, the company generates $5 million a year in revenue from car rentals alone, and has offices in Beverly Hills and New York, in addition to Miami Beach, which remains its headquarters and largest operation, generating more than half the companys revenue. Marotta expects to open offices in more cities within the next 18 months, including Las Vegas.
The luxury market is booming in every aspect, he said.
Carefree Lifestyle has a fleet of 40 luxury and exotic cars it owns, worth more than $5 million, including Range Rovers, BMWs, Mercedes Benzes, Porsches, Corvettes and Escalades at the low end, and Maseratis, Bentleys, Rolls-Royces, Ferarris, Lamborghinis, and an Audi R8 at the high end, Marotta said.
Rental prices range from $249 a day for a BMW 3-series or a Corvette convertible, to $2,500 a day for a Rolls-Royce or Ferrari.
The most popular are Ferraris and Lamborghinis. It grabs the eye, he said.
The majority of Carefree Lifestyles car rental clients are vacationers, and during the last couple of years, Marotta said he has seen an influx of foreign tourists, particularly Russians and Brazilians.
Theres almost no low season anymore, he said. Theres so much money coming in and out.
That cash has led to a shadier side of the business: brokers who rent out cars that dont belong to them.
One such exotic car rental broker, Raimundo Modia, who owned Lifestyle Luxury Rentals, was found shot to death in a Broward warehouse in December 2011. The killing came after he reported that customers had run off with a 2007 Lamborghini Murciélago, a new Audi R8 and a 2011 Porsche Panamera.
Marotta, himself, has had crooked customers.
Weve had every type of problem stolen cars, stolen credit cards, he said.
To take precautions lending out a car worth as much as $400,000, Marotta said his company checks credit, asks for two forms of identification, car insurance and a security deposit.
Once in the drivers seat, luxury car renters in Miami have run into trouble with the law, too.
Collado, of Prestige Luxury Rentals, has had to bail out foreign customers, often Russians, who were unfamiliar with the laws of the road.
They dont know the speed limits and they get arrested for reckless driving on the Beach, and they dont have anyone else to call so they call us, Collado said. Ive spent many hours waiting for customers and bailing them out. They get one call and who do they call? Their car rental place.
Collado said he helps them retrieve the impounded vehicle, and they get back in the car, and they are ready to go. The company also refers them to a lawyer who will deal with the ticket after the client returns to his native country.
Prestige started in Miami eight years ago with nine cars, mostly Escalades and Porsches, which were easier to insure. The company has grown steadily over the years to its current size: 50 luxury and exotic cars at its headquarters in Miami at 4019 NW 25th St., near the airport, as well as 10 cars in Orlando and 50 in Atlanta. All the vehicles are owned by the company, Collado said.
Weve been doing everything by the book from the start, he said. Some [companies] dont have insurance; some borrow cars. With us, weve been doing things the way they should be done.
In Miami, Prestige Luxury Rentals cars include Lamborghinis Aventador, Murciélago and Gallardo; Ferraris 458 Italia, F430, and California; as well as Aston Martins, Bentleys, Rolls- Royces, Porsches, Mercedes Benzes, BMWs, Maseratis, Jaguars, Audis, Cadillacs, Mini Coopers, Corvettes and Camaros.
Europeans love the Camaro convertible, Collado said. They love all American muscle cars.
Daily rates range from about $200 a day for a fully loaded Mini Cooper convertible; $300 for a Corvette or Camaro; about $500 for a Mercedes, BMW or Porsche; $1,000 for a Maserati or Aston Martin; to $2,500 for a Lamborghini or Ferrari up to $5,000 for a Lamborghini Aventador, worth about $487,000.
Collado estimates that 70 percent of his business is from tourists, and while he declined to provide figures, he said business is up about 33 percent year-over-year.
When you show up to a meeting in a Ferrari, everyone pays attention, he said. If you have one back home you dont want to rent a four-door sedan. You want to show up in style.
Prestige often picks up customers at the airport, or delivers cars to hotels. And like Carefree Lifestyle, Prestige offers a variety of services that go along with driving a fancy car.
When you are renting out luxury cars and for the price that people are paying its not just renting a car, its full service, Collado said. Someone needs a yacht, or a villa; and we have an in-house concierge if they need a table at a nightclub.