Autos Outside the Box


The two-car garage: today, that concept sounds quaintly vintage, like iceboxes and sliced bread.

The second car can hardly be considered a luxury anymore.

So as the auto count goes up, the question presents itself: Do you begin looking for more car space or cars that take up less?

Hailing from Arizona's real estate industry, two entrepreneurs I met at the Men's Luxury Toy Expo in Glendale, Ariz., are turning profits from two very different answers.

Cars Living Large

Car enthusiasts turn to the car Mecca of the Phoenix/Scottsdale area to escape the saltwater menace of coastal states.

Here, houses are often selected based on car needs, which often left realtor Denise Ham hunting down properties with five-car garages. While she specializes in finding homes for cars, Ham's prowess is challenged by the growing three-, four- or even five-car standard.

She is even thinking of enlarging her own garage to accommodate her collection, which includes a 1995 Corvette. "I am a car person and ... when [someone wants] a 12-foot ceiling in the garage I know why," says Ham.

If you don't happen to find a house with an accommodating show room, many Arizona properties won't allow you to add on, in which case your other option is to rent space in a commercial building -- often without the climate control option.

When a developer presented the idea of luxury car condos to Ham, she paid attention and soon found herself selling the Goodwood Motoring Club's condo concept to potential buyers in Arizona.

Ham has picked up local prospects from the annual Barret-Jackson car auction and even people from the Midwest and Northwest who have second homes in the area. "I just got an email yesterday from a gentleman in Daytona, Fla.," she says.

Goodwood takes the condo concept quite literally. While owners can't sleep alongside their favorite toys, they are provided with a showroom where they can hang out with their cars and friends while catching the game and chilling wine in the fridge.

Each condo provides a safe environment with climate control, security cameras and lights, all of which owners can adjust from their home computers.

Instead of the standard commercial box, these condos are designed with an old-world charm and all the bells and whistles of modernity.

Each of the 15 units comes with a full bathroom including a granite vanity, a full entertainment center, its own air compressor, indirect lighting for artwork, covered patio and open-truss, 12-foot ceilings. Seven of the units will have an additional entertainment center and bathroom.

The condos are perched around a cobblestone courtyard with central fountain; a washing bay resides just outside.

The smallest (2,431 square feet) condos start at $600,000, and the most elaborate will go for over $1.3 million. Ham plans to release full pricing by the end of March.

The Smart Cart

"I'm in the right place at the right time with the right car and the right solution," says entrepreneur George Bridges, standing in front of his display at the Men's Luxury Toy Expo, which resembled one of the luxury car lots that dotted the nearby Phoenix roadways.

The vehicles looked like limos, Hummers and Escalades minus their two trademarks: size, and a steaming exhaust pipe.

After a raging real estate success with his company Arizona Dreams, Bridges tapped into something that involved both real estate and auto trends.

He had been using his own electric golf cart as a second car, but when Bush's 10/20 plan rolled around, Bridges saw what he had on his hands. He and his wife Sydney promptly started Mobile West.

There are 200 golf courses in surrounding Maricopa County, and too many golf carts for Bridges' tastes.

"Why sell golf carts when there's five million of them?" he queries. "I'm selling second cars."

Bridges' eyes tear on a bad pollution day in Phoenix. While he doesn't advocate boycotting the oil or sports car industry, he's all about cutting down consumption.

Taking his cue from coughing golfers, Bridges began selling environmentally friendly alternatives to that second or third "gas hog," as Bridges dubbed it. He even wants to get on a national committee with Senator McCain to promote his cars.

You'd think it'd be hard convincing business barons to cart around in a vehicle the size of a golf cart, but when the smog hits home, they listen. Bridges says his pro-electric clients usually lead alternative lifestyles in which electric is in and pollution-free golf greens are sexy.

Leading this trend is Virgin chairman Richard Branson, who announced -- perhaps a bit rashly -- that he will pay $25 million to the scientist who discovers how to extract greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

What's more, a federal mandate will make gas-powered golf carts illegal on courses in 2008, says Bridges. He is miles ahead with his alternative, which simultaneously dashes the idea of an uptight golfer.

"I like being different," says Arizona resident Beverly Lutes as she eyed an electric 6-seater limo. "Plus, there's lots of room for groceries." She plays golf five days a week and has four grocery stores within golf-cart reach.

People will always choose convenience, and for customers like Lutes, that's the appeal.

"People [want to] get rid of the gas and insurance bill," says Bridges. Insurance for Mobile West vehicles is only $50 a year.

For someone with grandchildren or living in a gated community, Bridges' car is the ideal. Plus, parking is a dream, especially when you can pop your car into a motorcycle spot instead of trekking a mile through a busy lot.

Despite their size, his vehicles get respect on the road, Bridges says -- as long as the speed markers say 45 mph and under. "Everyone gets out of my way when I'm driving," he says. 

Gas Guzzlers, Be Gone   
While he's only been in business for nine months, Bridges is selling ad space on cars, creating billboards at convention centers on the East Coast and shipping to England and Canada. Two of his Escalades will be zipping around the Superbowl in 2008.

"The market is endless, from selling commercially to a driving billboard to a car for errands around town," Bridges points out.

The cars start at $9,000 and can go upward of $20,000.

"It's cutting edge -- people haven't gotten that yet," Bridges explains, but he's certain they'll all catch on very soon.

So whether you need more space for your new hotrod or are sick of spending on gas, look to some of these innovate, alternative solutions.

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