Shantelle Ford, rental operations manager for Tom Wood Rental, spends most of her time fielding queries about common and garden-variety conveyances such as Subarus, Nissans and Fords. But occasionally, among all the orders for minivans and sedans, someone requests a Lamborghini.
“We actually have people call and ask that,” she said. “We just tell them, ‘Not yet.’”
Or, quite possibly, not ever.
Though Indianapolis hosts some of the world’s hottest racing cars, anyone hoping to rent one of their mostly Italian-made, street-legal brethren is pretty much out of luck. The burgeoning market for high-end exotic sports car rentals is a big deal in places like Los Angeles, Las Vegas and South Florida, where well-heeled visitors can readily lease driving machines almost as powerful and only slightly less pricey than fighter jets.
Meanwhile, Indy rental customers, because of the nature of the local market, “settle” for top-drawer Jags, Audis, BMWs, Mercedes and Lexuses.
If it’s any consolation, you can’t rent a Lamborghini—or a Ferrari, for that matter—pretty much anywhere else in the Midwest.
“Exotic rentals happen where stupid money goes,” said a leasing industry insider who asked not to be identified. “You certainly see that in spades in South Florida, and to a certain extent in LA and some in New York. I think the main tie-in is foreigners and tourists with cash. In South Florida, it’s all about wealthy Central and South Americans coming up and needing to rent a hot car.”
You can get a good idea as to where the stupidest of that stupid money lurks by looking at the cities where two of the rental industry’s giants, Hertz and Enterprise, have established leasing programs for exotics. Neither offers anything in Indiana, though Hertz Dream Cars maintains an outpost at Chicago’s O’Hare. However, perhaps in a bow to Midwestern sensibilities, that location’s stock of “exotics” is confined to relatively demure models such as the Mercedes Benz S550 and the Jaguar XJL. Nice, but not fire-breathing show stoppers.
Browse the selection at the company’s West Palm Beach location, however, and you’ll find a wildly different, strongly Italian-themed selection that includes everything from the Lamborghini Gallardo Bicolore to the Ferrari F430 Spider to the Porsche Panamera.
No such luck here, where the bread-and-butter market consists not of playboys, but of businesspeople. The top offerings at Indianapolis International Airport’s Hertz office include the Audi Quattro and the 350 Lexus. The airport’s Enterprise location offers a top-tier performance stable composed mostly of standard American steel—Dodge Challengers, Chevy Camaros and Ford Mustangs.
“We don’t have Lamborghinis or things like that,” said one brutally honest Enterprise employee. “We do have people call and ask, but I think one of them was maybe 12 years old.”
That sounds pretty typical to Chris Brown, executive editor of Auto Rental News. According to him, the top-end rides normally available in a city like Indianapolis include the Mercedes S-Class, Audi A8s and the BMW 7 Series. The kind of stuff CFOs like to drive.
“To be honest, the corporate class, when they rent cars, they’re fairly mundane about it,” said Brown, who thinks exotic rentals compose perhaps only 1 percent of the $24-billion-a-year domestic rental market. “They don’t necessarily need the flash, unless they’re at the very top.”
Steve Ooley, sales manager at Maserati of Indianapolis, agreed that Indianapolis isn’t fertile ground for leasing Italian thoroughbreds. Though he’ll happily sell you a Maserati Grand Tourismo MC for around $175,000, he is rarely asked if they can be borrowed.
“People do ask occasionally for weddings, but not very often,” Ooley said. “I know a couple of people who own leasing companies in Miami, and it works better in vacation destination locations.”
Arguably the closest thing Indy has to an exotic car leasing service is Tom Wood Rental. The company got into the business after it built up a fleet of tony loaners for customers whose rides were in the shop.
“We started with the high-end cars because we like to offer our service customers the same kind of vehicle they normally drive,” Ford said. “So for our Jaguar customers, I decided to buy some Jaguars. Same with Volvo and Lexus. Then we discovered that there aren’t very many luxury rentals around, so there was a need for that. We slowly offered them to the retail market.”
To no surprise, Ford confines her luxury offerings to products and nameplates sold at the various Tom Wood dealerships, including Jaguar, Volvo and Lexus.
The top-drawer stuff accounts for 5 percent to 8 percent of total rentals. Clients often want them for weddings and special events, and non-Colt NFL players sometimes rent when they’re in town. Trouble is, there aren’t enough special events and NFL-caliber celebrities hitting town to make offering some truly exotic machines worthwhile. Though there’s been talk.
“We’ve considered it,” Ford said. “But it would be tough. We would only need a couple of those types of vehicles because they wouldn’t be rented out on a regular basis. The market’s really not there for that.”•