Uber launches luxury car service in Indianapolis

August 7, 2015

Your Mercedes is arriving now.

A new luxury option from Uber, the popular ride-sharing service, launched Thursday in Indianapolis, allowing riders to request high-end cars including the Lexus QS, Mercedes Benz E-Class and Audi A6 for a steep price.

The service, which is called UberLUX, already has been added to Uber's lineup in other cities.

Is there a market for luxury ride-sharing in Indianapolis, which already has the standard UberX service? Uber thinks so.

"We’re constantly evaluating our markets,” said spokeswoman Brooke Anderson. “We think there’s definitely demand for choices and options. Maybe UberX is what you use on a day-to-day basis, but it’s always nice to have an option for that special night out.”

The cost is considerably higher than what you’d spend normally to get carpooled around in an Uber driver’s Honda or Jeep. The service works the same as a typical Uber ride, with a rider using the Uber smartphone app to arrange for pickup by a local Uber contractor. But a trip from Broad Ripple to downtown using UberLUX will run you nearly $40, about two and a half times as much as the service’s UberX option.

Jack Gambs, manager of Antique Limousine of Indianapolis, says he has a hard time believing that there’s enough demand for luxury Uber rides.

“I can’t imagine luxury and ride-sharing being in the same sentence,” Gambs said. “I don’t know how they envision it coming to fruition, but if they can pull it off, good for them.”

If there’s skepticism, it’s because the luxury car rental market hasn’t exactly taken off here. A 2014 IBJ story pointed out that it’s virtually impossible to rent cars like the Lamborghini—or insert a similar-caliber exotic car of your choice here—in Indianapolis.

“We’re not Vegas,” Gambs said. "We’re not Chicago. We’re not Los Angeles. We’re Indianapolis. There’s not enough demand in this milquetoast town to have that kind of money invested in those kind of vehicles.”

Maybe Uber sees something he doesn’t.

Ride-sharing on the popular app has grown quickly in the two years since it launched in Indianapolis. More than 180,000 riders have completed more than 1 million trips using the service here, according to the company. The company also operates in Bloomington, West Lafayette, South Bend, Muncie, Fort Wayne and Northwest Indiana.

Gov. Mike Pence this spring signed a bill explicitly allowing ride-sharing in Indiana, bringing even more good news for the company, which has encountered resistance in other states from taxi cab companies who say they can’t compete with Uber’s low fares because they have more regulatory burdens.

And Anderson said that makes Indianapolis an attractive city to try out new things.

“We’re really excited about the growth we’ve seen here over the last two years,” Anderson said. “It’s a great city for Uber.”

Uber already has beat out taxis for well-heeled business travelers, according to a national survey from the expense management system provider Certify. In the second quarter of this year, Uber accounted for 55 percent of ground transportation receipts tracked by Certify, compared with taxis at 43 percent.


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