A Car-Buying Vacation
Buy it here, pick it up there. We dissect the pros and cons of European delivery programs.
Corley's Albuquerque Volvo had an offer that Albuquerque, N.M., resident Debra Toner couldn't refuse: Buy a new 2011 S40 and we'll give you an 8 percent discount, two round-trip airline tickets to Europe and a one-night stay at a high-end hotel in Gothenburg, Sweden, Volvo's home town.
"I kept thinking, 'This is too good to be true. What's the catch?'" she says. "But there was no catch. My husband and I saved money and went on a wonderful trip. It was a win-win situation."
The best part of this offer is that anyone can walk into a Volvo dealership, anywhere in the United States, and get the same deal on any Volvo vehicle, thanks to the Swedish automaker's European delivery program.
What is a European delivery program, you ask? All of the big-name European carmakers, including Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, offer programs that allow you to test-drive and buy one of their cars on this side of the pond and then fly over to the other side to pick it up.
Here's how it works. The order goes into the system in the U.S. and a date is set a couple of months out for pick-up at the company's factory-delivery center overseas — Gothenburg, Sweden for Volvo; Ingolstadt, Germany, for Audi; and so on. When customers arrive to pick up their new car, they get the VIP treatment, including a free factory or museum tour, and in some cases lunch.
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After driving around Europe for a bit, the vehicle's proud owners bring the new ride to a predetermined shipping agent, where it is prepped for shipment stateside. The customers then fly home while the vehicle is placed on a ship to its new home.
Although fewer than 3 percent of U.S. buyers opt for European delivery, the ones who do enjoy it so much that they often do it multiple times. More than 70 percent are repeat buyers, like Elizabeth Nichols of San Antonio, Texas. Since 2007, she and her husband have picked up a BMW 5-Series and two 7-Series cars at BMW Welt ("World" in German), the palatial delivery center adjacent to the 3-Series factory in Munich.
It sounds like a sweet arrangement, right? Well, it is, but it has both pros and cons.
The Downside: The Wait
There's one major drawback to European delivery, and it's big: From the time you order the car, months could pass before you see it at the factory.
"It's probably at least a two-month delay from when you walk in and order the car until when you actually pick it up in Sweden," says Anders Robertson, manager of overseas delivery for Volvo Cars North America. "A very popular car can take a little bit more time."
Then there's the wait once you get back from the trip: six to eight weeks, if you live on the East Coast; eight to 10 weeks for the West Coast; and more for Hawaii or Puerto Rico, says Cindy Ryerson, special sales manager for BMW of North America.
The Toners bought their Volvo S40 right before Christmas, booked the vacation in January and didn't take their European adventure until mid-April. They expect to see the S40 finally parked in their Albuquerque driveway by the end of June.
The Upside: Savings and Perks
The discount off the price of the car is a major draw. BMW and Mercedes, which do not pay for airfare like Volvo does, offer 7 percent off a car's suggested retail price. "That easily pays for the airline, and possibly some hotels," says Simone Zaccardi, European delivery supervisor for BMW of North America.
BMW sweetens the deal with two-for-one economy airline tickets through Lufthansa. Not having to rent a car while on vacation can also save hundreds.
Every European delivery package includes 15 days of vehicle registration and full insurance coverage, which can be extended for up to half a year for an additional fee. Automakers handle all the hassles of paperwork and legalities.
Any damage to the car made during the trip gets repaired at no cost to the owner. "We actually scratched up our wheels pretty badly on our last trip, trying to fit into a parking garage in France," Nichols says. "My husband was pretty upset about it. But we had a nice clean set of wheels waiting for us when we picked up our car in the States."
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We did this with our kids: twice, in fact. Apart from their complaining "....oh, Mom! Another old church?" when being shown (dragged) through some cathederal or other it was great except, maybe, for the fact that most of Europe has not been introduced to the concept of premises liability. 20+ years later I can still recall my terror following a 6-year-old up and down the Tower of Pisa. (Which you can't do any more; since it re-opened there are height restrictions.)
The amount of money we saved on the car purchases more than paid for the trips. Having a car also made it easier to stay outside city centers where lodging was cheaper and to buy groceries for picnic meals instead of eating in restaurants.
Going off the beaten track, though, can lead you into interesting automotive situations, such as trying to find a MB repair shop in Yugoslavia. On a weekend. (A/C was giving off heat.) But we did.