The rather cool idea of taking delivery of your European car in, well, Europe, has its roots in the 1950s, when U.S. servicemen (was Elvis Presley among them?) brought some exotic and sporty vehicles back from their tours of duty. Sensing an opportunity, Mercedes, Volvo, Saab and others launched formal programs that really took off in the 1960s.
The option of being handed the keys in Munich, Ingolstadt, Sindelfingen or Gothenburg instead of at the local dealer is still around, and although not as well known as it was 50 years ago it’s a better deal than ever. The euro is worth only a little more than a dollar, and you can attach a low-cost vacation—with no need for an expensive rental car—on the tail end of the delivery. Finally, you drop your car off for shipping (arranged by the automaker), and 10 to 13 weeks later it’s in the U.S.
According to Sam Abuelsamid, a senior research analyst at Navigant Research, “Most of these programs are a really good deal, especially because of the dollar’s strength against the euro. If you are a fan of the brand that you’re buying, taking delivery means you will have a great opportunity to visit the factory for a tour or see the brand’s museum. You may even be able to see your own car being assembled if you can time it right.”
Carmakers sweeten the deal with discounts. Stephen Williams of Queens could have picked up his BMW 128i at his local dealership on Long Island for $35,250, but the European price was only $31,695. “I was treated like royalty the day I was in Munich,” Mr. Williams said. “Buffet breakfast and a voucher for lunch.”
Mercedes offers up to 7 percent off the car’s manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP), BMW 7.3 to 7.4 percent and Audi up to 5 percent.
Mr. Williams had to buy airplane tickets to pick up his BMW, but even that would have been waived had he instead purchased a Volvo—the company throws in a pair of free round-trip airplane tickets to Gothenburg, Sweden’s second-largest city. Volvo’s discount is 1 to 2 percent off the MSRP, and the deal also includes waived destination charges. The latter perk is echoed by some other manufacturers, amounting to a $945 to $995 value in Volvo’s case. “I believe Volvo may be the only brand to offer such a comprehensive package,” said spokesman Russell Datz.
The purchase price windfalls are great, but savvy buyers might be able to negotiate similar discounts at their local dealer. Mr. Williams says the real savings from overseas delivery are realized if you plan a European vacation after picking up the car. “Renting a 3-Series in Europe for two weeks would run into the hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars,” he said. “Any BMW salesman over there will tell you that’s the main attraction.”
Jack Nerad, executive market analyst at Kelley Blue Book, agrees. “I’m a big fan of European delivery programs, especially with the price of rental cars in Europe being through the roof,” he said. Renting a BMW 3-Series from Auto Europe at Stuttgart airport and keeping it for two weeks would cost $937.08 at the inclusive rate, according to an online quote.
European delivery does require advance planning; Audi, for instance, wants buyers to place their order for a U.S.-spec car three or four months before they leave for Europe. There’s also a fair amount of paperwork involved.
The programs are similar in what they offer—insurance on the cars while they’re in Europe is standard, for instance—though the individual perks vary. Shipping to the U.S. is usually included, as well as such incidentals as port processing and customs duty. Mercedes tempts with a night in a Stuttgart luxury hotel, a factory tour in nearby Sindelfingen when you pick up your car, tickets to the awesome company museum, taxi coupons for the ride to the airport, and a meal at the delivery center.
BMW brings your car to you in a glass elevator, then spins it around on a spotlighted turntable. Porsche does the factory (with lunch in the VIP dining room), the museum, and throws in a visit to the Porsche Boutique. Audi betters the taxi coupons with chauferred transport (in an Audi!) from the airport or train station, and it boasts of 17 dropoff locations in Europe.
The Rolls-Royce company offers a bespoke program. The company says discreetly, “You can collect your Rolls-Royce in person from our home at Goodwood, England.” Spokesman Gerry Spahn said that some “fraction” of its buyers pick up their keys in England, where they can get a “ceremonial handover,” meet with designers and get a factory tour. A few then fly the cars home in their own planes, Mr. Spahn said.
Some luxury brands you might expect to have European delivery programs, don’t. Stuart Schorr, a vice president of communications at Jaguar, said the company “does not have a formal European delivery program.” Sister company Land Rover offers driving schools in the U.K.
There aren’t many caveats about these programs, though it should be pointed out that checking the box for the navigation option will be a great help on unfamiliar European roads. And a few owners say they flew to Europe and were delivered a car that wasn’t quite what they ordered. It’s difficult to fix that while you’re sitting in the delivery room and need a car right away.
And there’s value in being a repeat European delivery customer. One BMW enthusiast found a bottle of Dom Pérignon in the trunk of his fifth such purchase.
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Jim Motavalli’s most recent book on the auto industry is High Voltage. He is a regular contributor to The New York Times, Car Talk at NPR and Mother Nature Network.