Bentley
Demand is increasing for alternatives to traditional ownership of high-end cars, such as this Bentley Continental.
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updated 10/5/2006 2:56:16 PM ET 2006-10-05T18:56:16

A few years ago, when Torbin Fuller was a senior analyst in Ford Motor's corporate finance department, he gave up on his red 1982 Ferrari 308 (the Magnum P.I. Ferrari). Ownership was a hassle, particularly considering that Italian supercars are not known for reliability or affordable maintenance.

"It's really complicated, sitting at your desk, discreetly trying to arrange to get the car towed into the dealer or trying to order a part," he said in a recent phone interview. "Stepping out into a hallway or trying to find a conference room ... kind of took all the fun out of it."

Fuller, now 33, sold his Ferrari and in March 2003 pioneered (according to him) the business of exotic-car timeshares. As the president of Club Sportiva, which has six locations in the U.S. and Europe, he supervises more than 200 members, who save tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars each by sharing luxury cars, sports cars and exotic cars, rather than buying them.

Demand is increasing for alternatives to traditional ownership of high-end cars. Membership clubs and organizations offering fractional luxury-car ownership are in their infancy, as are agencies that rent new-model supercars, but they are expanding.

More and more exotic-car drivers are finding they don't spend enough time in their cars to justify owning them year-round and paying six-figure prices. If you're a Manhattan executive with a Lamborghini, you probably don't drive it to work each day. You might only use it on vacation. Or maybe you only bring out your Rolls-Royce. These are the kind of folks signing up.

Another advantage of membership clubs is that instead of having to choose which car to buy, you can get a variety of different vehicles delivered in the course of a year.

"It's a bit of an addictive thing," said Fuller. "Once you've driven a Ferrari and a Bentley and a Lamborghini and a Lotus, you ask, 'What's next on my hit list?'"

Ron Van Horssen, chairman of Phoenix's Van Horssen Group membership club, agrees. In a recent phone interview, Van Horssen, 55, said, "The time is right for people to rethink how they're enjoying the latest cars. The cars are depreciating assets, so there's no reason to own them — fractionally or otherwise. But there are a lot of reasons to enjoy them and compare them." (He did, however, state that "if you're going to use it for more than 100 days, it's going to be more cost-effective for you to buy the car.")

Despite Van Horssen's assertions of the superiority of membership clubs, George Kiebala, who says he pioneered fractional car ownership with Chicago-based Curvy Road, argues that fractional ownership offers a richer experience, in which you don't have to worry about whether you have bought or accrued enough "membership points" to take advantage of all your club has to offer. Membership clubs often have different tiers you can buy into — buy a mid-level membership package, and you won't have access to the club's hottest vehicles.

Both membership clubs and fractional-ownership plans offer several advantages that traditional ownership does not. For traditional owners, exotic cars are expensive to own, store and maintain. And they depreciate, something that isn't a big worry for sharers or fractional owners. With these alternatives, the parent companies change the shared vehicles' oil, detail them, give them other maintenance and deliver them to you with full tanks of gas, so you're always getting into cars that feel clean and new.

Membership clubs are also just that — clubs, with group activities. Club Sportiva recently took some members on a four-day tour of the Swiss Alps. They arranged hotels, airfare and dinners for its members and their spouses. On Nov. 17, several Club Sportiva members will travel to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where they will get to drive a million-dollar Formula 1 race car. This summer, Van Horssen Group members took a six-day tour of the best fly-fishing spots in the Rocky Mountains.

Fuller believes that membership clubs are superior to fractional-ownership plans, because they offer a variety of vehicles for you to drive, as opposed to partial ownership of one car. However, Curvy Road says that it should be able to arrange for its vehicle owners to swap cars as they wish.

The slide show (see link above) should help you determine which alternative to ownership is right for you. Kiebala says Curvy Road is the only place offering fractional exotic-car ownership, but membership clubs are on the rise. Fuller says that in the last 12 months, around six competitors to Club Sportiva have appeared.

The slide show focuses on new-model cars. And an organization's "location," as listed there, usually indicates the center of a 50- to 100-mile area in which deliveries are available. For example, Image Rent-a-Car is based in Brooklyn, N.Y., and serves New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

Get to know your delivery people. Once you get used to having clean, detailed, new exotic models at your service, you'll want to test all the models you possibly can.

© 2012 Forbes.com

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