SYDNEY -- The credit crunch may have dented some motorists' dreams of owning a Ferrari but the rental market for luxury cars in many countries, including Australia, is gathering speed as the rest of the auto industry splutters.
Australia's Supercar Club, which makes luxury cars available to a pool of members, is drawing new clients every month who would rather borrow an Aston Martin or a Lamborghini on the weekend to release their inner James Bond than own one.
"I joined the club so that I could enjoy the benefits of the cars without the expenditure," said Rod Spencer, an IT consultant from Melbourne.
Luxury car clubs have become a popular alternative to the costly hobby of owning, insuring and maintaining high-priced hot wheels, giving car enthusiasts easy access to the keys of dozens of exotic cars.
Amid the financial crisis, sales of luxury cars have fallen sharply with Lamborghini, Bentley and Maserati this year reporting sales down more than half from a year ago in the United States alone. Sales for Ferrari and Porsche are down 30 percent.
This fall-off in luxury car sales has been a boost for clubs like Australia's Supercar Club which has sought to take advantage of this surge in interest by launching new ways to attract members seeking an auto adrenaline rush.
Earlier this year, it launched test drive days that are open to car enthusiasts happy to shell out A$1,320 to sample a selection of their dream cars including a Lamborghini Gallardo Coupe, a Ferrari 360 Challenge Stradale or an Aston Martin V8 Vantage.
The club has also started a Superbike club and is currently looking into marine and aviation projects.
James Morrison, an Australian jazz trumpeter and co-host of TV car show "Top Gear Australia," said the club's multi-location offers great benefits for someone like him who travels a lot.
On arrival in Melbourne this past weekend "waiting for me at the airport was an Aston Martin," said the Sydney resident.
Morrison, a self-confessed car fanatic who has owned 98 cars so far, said the club allowed him to indulge in his passion of driving different cars without any hassle.
"I don't have to sell it, buy it and look after it myself. I just turn up, it's there, I drive it and when I am finished I give it back," he said.
THE KEYS TO LUXURY
Australia's Supercar Club started in 2006, operating from Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, and now has 150 members, including two women, with about five new members joining each month at present.
Members pay a one-off joining fee of A$4,500 then annual membership rates ranging from A$19,000 to A$42,500 which pays for between 15 and 80 driving days a year depending on the car and the day of the week as weekends are more costly.
The club, which has a fleet of 36 cars and adds a new car for every new five members, is expected to close its books when membership reaches 250.
Peter Dempsey, executive director at Supercar Club, said the combination of the global financial crisis and a pricey Australian tax on luxury cars had driven membership numbers up.
Last year the tax on luxury cars in Australia rose to 33 percent from 25 percent which sent the price of an imported Ferrari soaring.
"Immediately we felt the positive effect with an increase in inquiry and sign-up activities," said Dempsey.
"Our inquiry rate shot up at that point. Our conversion rate is higher. If receive 5 enquiries, traditionally we'd expect one out of 5 to buy a membership, but currently it's two out of 5."
Since the financial crisis, he noted demographic changes among the people joining the club which began by attracting bankers and financiers but is now drawing small business owners and entrepreneurs.
"If (someone) has his own workforce and has been telling men to tighten the belt and cut back on cost, (he) can't necessarily afford to turn up with a new Aston Martin," said Dempsey.
"So rather than go ahead and spend A$400,000-A$500,000 (on a car), he might continue to drive his own four-wheel drive Monday to Friday and use our cars on the weekend."
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