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June 15, 2008
Whether going to the golf course or private resort, or even just to the office, a major topic among wealthy baby-boomer's in Japan is their personal chauffeurs. Those who are making the most use of the service are company owners and retired founders of major companies who appreciate the service as a status symbol. They have also found that it is cheaper and more convenient to hire a chauffer to drive them in their own personal car rather than hire a car and driver together. In this way they can hire a driver for part of a journey, and then continue onward with their own vehicle at their leisure.
The service is commonly known as "On-call Chauffer", and at one of the more popular companies they make sure to have 150 on-call chauffeur's ready for dispatch. In Japan the demand is for drivers who can do more than just drive the clients to and from work. Among the chauffeur's available at the larger companies are female drivers, English translators, and administrative assistants. In addition to this companies have chauffeurs who can play a role much greater than just a chauffeur, such as bodyguard, Japanese chess partners, and those who can update their clients on changes in the stock market.
The service costs are typically a set price for a certain time period and includes fuel costs and other related expenses. The great majority of users are older than 60 years old and currently use the service five or six times a month. However with an expected increase in the number of people in the retired wealthy class sales are anticipated to reach ¥70,000,000 by fall 2009.
The vice-president of one of the larger on-call chauffer services gave some insights into how and when their customers make use of their services.
Generally the service is used when going to a private villa or resort, but also for those who have moved to the suburbs and must commute to work. It's even frequently used by people who are planning to build in their hometowns in the countryside after working in the city and would prefer a chauffer to drive them around as they search for a suitable location. For business use they have short-term contracts as well as yearly contracts. For example a contract for 9 hours each day with a Mercedes or Crown might cost ¥4,000,000 per year.
However their foundation is primarily customers who require their services for personal use. That being said, due to the nature of retirement in Japan it is very common for a retired company president who has stepped back from the day-to-day operations of his business to frequently be in close contact with the enterprise. As such the chauffer service is available to take their client first to the factory or office to check-in, then after to a hotel restaurant to meet former colleagues and friends for dinner. Thus the services and pricing have been created to reflect the combination of work and personal use.
If a customer is going to stay over night the on-call chauffeur agency has a number of options. The chauffeur can stay over or return the next day, both at the expense of the client, as are all entrance fees and other charges for tours and sightseeing. Surprisingly these services have quite a few repeat customers despite the high cost.
The on-call company's mission is to present a professional and amiable image to their customers, and to customize their services in response to customer demand. For example from mid-June a "car-forwarding" service will commence where the chauffer will drive the client to the airport or other destination and leave the car in a secure parking lot for the client to pick up on their return. They also expect to make arrangements with luxury hotels in Ginza and Roppongi for pick-up and chauffer services in the near future.
June 7, 2008 J-Cast News