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Car rental companies in the US ramp up exotic offerings

LAS VEGAS -- There's a chance now for the U.S. middle class to feel like movie stars.

In the past few years, some of the biggest car rental companies have added the finest cars money can buy to their fleets. Alongside the practical Toyotas and Fords are Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Bentleys, Aston Martins and Teslas, to name a few.

“We try to sell a lifestyle, not just an exotic vehicle,” said Vince Sample, location manager for Beverly Hills Rent A Car in Las Vegas.

Sample's firm will deliver a US$900-per-day Ferrari California or a US$2,200-per-day Rolls-Royce Wraith directly to the customer. There's no license plate frame to mark it as a rental.

As the recession fades to a memory, independent rental companies in cities such as Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Miami Beach aren't the only ones offering the high-end rides.

Last summer, Hertz launched its Dream Cars line in 35 locations, including Pittsburgh and Milwaukee. Enterprise's Exotic Collection operates in 13 locations and is planning to open West Hollywood and Atlanta branches later this year. Budget offers a range of BMWs and American sports cars in its Street Fleet.

Sharon Faulkner, executive director of the American Car Rental Association, said the growth in the upscale rental market differs from years past because it's no longer limited to beach and tourist towns.

Enterprise's move into the exotics market in 2006. Last year, the number of rental days within the exotic collection jumped 50 percent, according to Steve Short, Enterprise's vice president of leisure business development.

Customers for the high-end automobiles include Douglas Weil, a Southern California businessman who tends to choose Mercedes, Audis and BMWs.

He owns a two-door luxury sports car, but wants something roomier and more practical when he's shuttling around out-of-town clients.

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