When the new CEO flies into town, putting him or her in a taxi simply won’t do. Fortunately, Chinese cities now offer more than bread trucks.
Limousine services in China are still in their infancy, but are growing at a fast pace, said T.J. Kao, general manager of luxury limousine service AsiaLimo. The majority of clients who would use limousine services are expatriates and Chinese executives, but as residents, most already have their own chauffeured cars.
"They only use us when their business associates are visiting or when they go out of town on a business trip," said Kao. Most of AsiaLimo’s business comes from foreign businessmen visiting China, Fortune 500 company employees and Chinese businessmen visiting from abroad.
Everything but the bubbly
The first stretch limousine service in Shanghai, AsiaLimo started up in 2003 with just one car. Over the last two years business has grown 220% annually, said Kao. The company now operates six vehicles of its own in Shanghai and works with other services that provide car rentals. It plans to open a Beijing office in the first quarter of 2009.
AsiaLimo offers sedans, luxury sedans, stretch limousines, minivans, vans, minibuses and coaches. Renting an Audi A6L with an English-speaking driver will cost RMB280 (US$4) per hour, plus an 18% gratuity charge for a minimum of three hours. The rate includes everything but the bubbly.
AsiaLimo also offers private charter services and executive security protection that other agencies don’t provide. A Western-trained bodyguard costs RMB3,000-7,000 per day.
Avis China, AsiaLimo’s biggest competitor, offers a wider range of car rental services, both utilitarian and luxury. Avis’s English website allows customers to peruse a choice of vehicles, with or without a driver. The company also offers long-term rentals of up to two to three years, including a variety of insurance options, with-driver services, and individual specifications.
Avis’s fleet includes 16 different types of vehicles made by companies including Volkswagen, GM, Roewe and Saab. Avis also offers prepaid vouchers of up to US$3,000 that can then be exchanged for renminbi. Avis also runs special offers. Currently car rental services in Hong Kong start at about around RMB350 per day.
China Car Service, now active in 13 cities around the country, offers a choice of Lincoln stretch limos, Mercedes E- and S-class sedans, Audi A6 or Nissan Elgrand minivans. They all come with GPS systems to help busy executives get to morning meetings on time, and English-speaking chauffeurs. Rates differ from city to city, but start at around RMB1,000 for four hours in an Audi A6.
Other rental agencies – such as China Limousine Services, which handles airport, pier and train station pickups in Beijing, Guangzhou, Chongqing, Guilin, Kunming, Shanghai, Suzhou, Xi’an and Wuhan – are geared toward the mid-luxury set and offer standard sedans and minivans. Prices depend on the number of people, pick up point and city, but generally start from about RMB160 for two people.