Super-Luxury Cars for the Commitment-Phobic
NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Bruce Newman drives Ferraris, Aston Martins and other exotic vehicles on a regular basis, but never has to change the oil or make a car payment.
That's because he belongs to San Francisco's Club Sportiva, one of a handful of car-sharing clubs that let well-heeled consumers drive super-premium vehicles whenever they want.
"If I feel like taking out an Aston Martin for the weekend, I drive it around, get it dirty, then drop it off Monday morning on my way to work," Newman says. "Feel like arriving in the Audi R8, with its sleek lines and rumbly raw power? No problem."New York, San Francisco and a few other cities around the world have car-sharing clubs that offer members the chance to drive everything from $278,000 Ferrari 458 Italias to $120,000 Tesla (TSLA) Roadster electric sports cars. "We're an authentic group of car guys who have fun driving fancy cars and doing other cool stuff," says Zac Moseley of New York's Classic Car Club Manhattan. Many car-sharing clubs folded during the Great Recession, but a few remain. Members typically pay anywhere from $1,000 to more than $10,000 to join, plus around $150 a month in dues. That usually gives you "points" to use toward borrowing different exotic cars. The fancier the vehicle and the more popular the rental period (summer Saturdays trump winter Wednesdays), the more points you'll need. For example, borrowing a 1969 MGC for a winter weekday costs 8 points (worth around $72) at Classic Car Club Manhattan. But driving a Ferrari for a two-day summer weekend will set you back 288 points -- equivalent to about $2,600. If you want more points than your membership allows, clubs often let you buy extras for an additional price. Some groups also let non-members rent exotic cars without joining the club, while many sell special day trips that let you test several cool cars in one shot. Classic Car Club Manhattan calls its $600 outings "autogasms." Typically, six clients will take out a half-dozen super-premium vehicles -- stopping for an upscale lunch and switching cars now and then so everyone gets to drive everything. Car-sharing clubs also usually have private clubhouses that include bars, cigar lounges and other amenities, making them great places to take clients or just hang out with fellow auto enthusiasts. "We like to think of our club as similar to a high-end golf or tennis club," says Sia Bani of Club Sportiva, which has three such lounges around the San Francisco Bay area. "People join not just to drive, but also to network and enjoy their hobby with friends." Men typically make up around 90% of car-sharing clubs' membership bases, which generally include a mix of upscale professionals and business executives. "We have everything from celebrities and Silicon Valley CEOs to dentists, doctors and lawyers," says Bani, who co-owns Club Sportiva with fellow entrepreneur Rick Gaan. Bani estimates Club Sportiva's 90 members range in age from 25 to 75 and have at least $200,000 in annual household income. Club owners say the biggest thing they offer members is access to super-premium cars without the expense or headache of actually owning such vehicles. Moseley says having your own exotic car in Manhattan means spending a bundle on parking and insurance, finding a suburban mechanic to fix it -- and taking the train home whenever your ride is in the shop. "If you own a vintage Ferrari or another vehicle that's substantial, you end up putting your life into it," he says. "The biggest advantage of a car-sharing club is not just that it's more economical with your money, but also that it's more economical with your time."
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