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Audi on Demand offers a major upgrade from the frumpy rental car

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Michael Dalder/Reuters/File

(Read caption) Audi Chief Executive Officer Rupert Stadler is seen on video screens behind an Audi R8 sports car at the annual news conference in the Bavarian city of Ingolstadt. The automaker has launched 'Audi on Demand,' a rental service featuring just Audis.

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Rental cars are rarely nice. Online, rental companies may show images of sleek,sporty coupes, but when you get to the service desk, you're handed the keys to a frumpy sedan. And who knows if it's up to snuff?

The folks at Audi clearly understand your pain, because they've just launched something called "Audi on Demand". Essentially, it's a rental program featuring nothing but Audis, ranging from the family-friendly Q5 to the sexy R8 Spyder.

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The interesting thing is, the program seems to run primarily as a delivery service, meaning that cars are brought to customers, not the other way around. That approach benefits Audi and its fans:

1. For Audi, it means no brick-and-mortar outlets, which keeps the company's costs low.

2. For consumers, it's a great way to test drive an Audi they've had their eyes on.

While there are a few distribution outlets that customers can visit to retrieve their vehicles, Audi is clearly trying to make delivery the more attractive option. 

Audi on Demand works via an iPhone app, which prospective renters scan to see a full lineup of available vehicles. As the automaker explains, after consumers select a car:

"It is then personally delivered to them at the location of their choice by an Audi on demand concierge, who will help the customer get acquainted with the vehicle, from setting music preferences to tailoring the navigation system. Customers are able to lock and unlock their vehicle, as well as enable driving via the Audi on demand app or via a personal key card. No membership fee is required.  Additionally, the vehicle the customer sees and requests in the Audi on demand app will be the same vehicle delivered to them – down to the exact color and trim."

(BTW, that trim is from the Premium Plus line and includes a host of creature comforts like SiriusXM radio and MMI Navigation plus. Add-ons like child safety seats and ski racks are also available.)

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How much will consumers pay for something like this? If you guessed "a lot", you're in the ballpark. The Allroad appears to be one of the cheapest rentals in the program, and it starts at $165 a day. At the other end of the scale, the R8 Spyder will set you back $1,285 for 24 hours of heart-pounding fun. Vehicles can be rented for up to 28 days, which could add up to a very pretty penny.

And that's not all. Audi is elbowing into the ridesharing biz, too, with a new program called Audi at Home. According to a press release, it's:

"...a premium, collaborative car initiative that refashions mobility as a personalized micro-sharing experience. Located in select premium condominium complexes, residents can utilize their smartphones to access a car share service with an exclusive fleet of Audi vehicles. These include RS models, cabriolets and SUVs, with plans to also feature the all-new Audi A3 Sportback e-tron®, the first plug-in hybrid electric vehicle Audi is making available in the US market. The service allows customers to enjoy the benefits of driving an Audi at their convenience."

 In other words, it's a very uppity Zipcar. Be prepared.

Audi on Demand  is currently available only in San Francisco, but expect other metro areas to join the grand experiment soon. For more details, visit AudiOnDemand.com.


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