Get a trip to Europe with that new car
BMW, Mercedes, Volvo and Saab are luring new carbuyers to the old country with discounts, automotive museums and posh road trips, Fortune's Lawrence Ulrich reports.
(Fortune Magazine) -- Some people travel to Europe to see the Louvre and Saint Peter's Basilica. Chris Basse went there to pick up his BMW M5 in Munich, then drive the $90,000, 500-horsepower vehicle 140 miles an hour on Germany's autobahn. "All I could do was laugh. I never felt anything like it," says the 36-year-old businessman from San Antonio. "The car is just made for those roads."
For years, BMW, Mercedes, Volvo and Saab buyers have taken advantage of European delivery programs, receiving sizable discounts by picking up keys to a car at its home factory.
What's new is that carmakers are breaking ground on sleek delivery centers and piling on perks to lure autophiles into experiencing the newest car smell of all.
This summer the new BMW Welt - Deutsch for "world" - will open in Munich. The glass-skinned facility, designed by CoopHimmelblau (a cutting-edge Vienna-based architecture firm), will host up to 250 customer deliveries a day, with cars rotating on turntables as they're introduced to owners.
Porsche is set to open an equally state-of-the-art tourist attraction next year as the focal point of its sprawling campus in Stuttgart, Germany. This museum will house the world's most valuable collection of Porsches, with hundreds of storied race and production models on display.
The way these European delivery programs work is pretty straightforward: Customers order the car through their dealer, who receives a normal profit on the sale. But instead of driving it off the lot, buyers fly to the factory, pick it up, cruise the Continent as long as they like, then drop it back off to be shipped home to the dealer.
Most of the companies offer numerous drop-off points, so a new Volvo owner can start his journey in Göteborg, Sweden, but leave the car in Paris after a tearful goodbye worthy of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca.
Discounts can be substantial. BMW, for example, whose European deliveries are up 25 percent this year, will cut 7 percent off list prices, savings of $2,000 to $8,400. Doug Roberts and his wife Dorothy traveled to Munich in July to pick up a BMW 330i, catching some World Cup soccer in the process. The Cincinnati attorney saved $3,200; in addition to discounted airfare, the deal more than paid for the four-day vacation.
Some of the sweetest deals come from Volvo and Saab. Volvo provides airfare for two, plus a night's accommodations. Saab throws in a $2,000 travel stipend, so both Swedish automakers cover a chunk of the trip in addition to vehicle savings. (Porsche offers a program sans discount.)
Some car companies also double as travel agents, providing detailed route maps to encourage four-wheeled adventure.
Customers acknowledge feeling some anxiety about dinging their new car while thousands of miles from home, or worries that the car wouldn't be ready as promised.
But comprehensive, zero-deductible policies ensure that owners won't pay a penny for any repair or liability costs; free roadside assistance is part of the deal.
For carmakers the programs boost customer loyalty, and they also hook first-time buyers: Volvo says about 70 percent of their participants are buying their first Volvo, and that 42 percent would have bought another brand if the European delivery weren't offered.
The marketing programs reward owners with "a moment at the factory that makes a brand enthusiast feel special," says George Peterson, president of AutoPacific, an industry analyst in Tustin, Calif.
Many owners mention a downside: having that brief affair in an exotic locale, then being forced to part. While buyers can track their car's homeward journey via the Internet, it typically takes six to eight weeks before an owner can stare in his garage and announce, "Here's looking at you, kid."
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