It's not well-known, but some European automobile companies let customers purchase a car in the States and then pick it up in Europe for a discount that can help cover vacation costs. My wife and I enjoyed our trip to Germany. . .and our new BMW.
If you’re like most luxury car customers these days, buying a new car means going through the usual negotiating and haggling at a dealership, and then driving something off the lot. Maybe something that’s not exactly what you wanted.
It doesn’t have to be that way. For decades, Americans have been able to order certain European cars exactly the way they want them at their local dealership, take delivery at the factory in Europe, drive the cars around the old country for a bit, and then have them shipped home for free once their trip is done. BMW, Porsche, Mercedes, Audi, and Volvo all offer European delivery programs, which generally include a discount off the vehicle purchase price—typically 5 to 8 percent off of MSR (though there’s no price break for Porsches, the Audi R8, and all AMG Mercedes). Also generally offered are European registration and insurance for two weeks, plus travel discounts and other enticements. While these programs won’t get you a free vacation, the discounts certainly help defray some of your travel expenses.
Surprisingly, only about one percent of American customers take advantage of these programs. Last October, my wife and I joined that one percent, and wow, was it fun!
The Road to our New BMW
The process started at our local BMW dealer where we purchased the baby blue 328d station wagon that we would pick up in Germany four months later. We put down a deposit at the time of purchase, then paid the rest about six weeks before the pick-up date. (Payment or loan for European delivery has to be finalized before pick-up.) It felt odd to walk out of the dealership knowing that we wouldn’t see the car for a while, but those months seemed to zip by. Before too long my wife and I were landing in Munich, excited for the adventure to come. We used our first day in the country to deal with jet lag, and were alert and ready when we arrived at the BMW Welt (World) the next morning.
Dr. Schutz and his wife at BMW Welt.
Our experience at the Welt began simply enough—we entered hoping to find someone who could direct us to the right place. We had only walked about four steps before a pair of uniformed staffers greeted us warmly, checked us in, and took our bags. As they escorted us to the elevator that would bring us to the sumptuous delivery-customers-only lounge, they casually mentioned that our luggage would be in our car when we took delivery. Nice!
Immediately after stepping off the elevator, we were met by another friendly associate who helped us complete our delivery paperwork. Nobody likes paperwork, but the whole process was quick and easy.
Honestly, between the espresso machine, gourmet food, wifi, and comfortable chairs, I could have stayed in the lounge all day, but when it was time, our delivery coordinator led us down a grand staircase to the vehicle display platform where our car was waiting.
After a rundown of the 328d’s features, a photographer swooped in to take our picture, and we were done. Before we left the Welt, we visited the BMW Museum, which also contains sections featuring the BMW-owned Rolls Royce and Mini brands, and toured the factory.
Being able to drive your new car around Europe is a primary attraction of European Delivery, and that was definitely the case for me. German roads in general—and the autobahns in particular—are superb, and there’s something special about experiencing them in a German car that’s been engineered by people who grew up in that world. Most stretches of the autobahns have speed limits, but many areas permit drivers to go as fast as conditions allow, and on a clear day with light traffic it’s routine to see cars traveling 100 mph or more. . .sometimes much more.
Overall, purchasing the new BMW and picking it up in Germany was a wonderful experience. The German people were welcoming and warm, and we found almost no language barrier because most locals we encountered spoke excellent English. And, of course, the beer is as excellent as you’ve heard.
We left our car at the drop-off location at the Munich airport, and it arrived at our local dealership almost exactly eight weeks later. Taking final delivery east of the Mississippi usually cuts the wait down to six weeks.
I thoroughly enjoyed my experience with BMW, and would encourage more people to take advantage of European delivery programs like this. Buying a car this way can be a much more meaningful experience than picking something off the lot at your local dealer. European Delivery programs aren't new, but not many Americans currently purchase automobiles this way. Maybe that will change as more people discover how enjoyable it is to buy a new car this way.
Facts About European Delivery
European Delivery programs aren’t new, but not many people in this country take advantage of them. Want to know more? Here’s what five European car companies offer. You can ask at your local dealership or look online for more.
BMW: Approximately 2000 customers from the U.S. take delivery of their BMWs in Munich every year. A 7 percent discount off MSRP applies, and you can negotiate additional discounts on top of that. Any BMW built in Germany is eligible, and the most popular models are the 3- and 5-Series sedans. (All X3, X4, X5, and X6s are built in Spartanburg, SC, and cannot be picked up overseas. But a factory delivery program is also offered there.) Hotel and transportation perks are not included in BMW’s program at the Welt.
Porsche: Only about 350 or 0.7 percent of U.S. buyers choose to take delivery in Germany. But according to Porsche, that’s because the company caps their program at that number. Despite the absence of a price break, demand for European delivery of Porsches currently outstrips supply. Not surprisingly, more than half of customers choosing this option are picking up 911s. Porsche pays for one night’s stay at one of eight participating luxury hotels near the factory in Zuffenhausen or Leipzig, as well as for lunch at the delivery center. If you choose to collect your car in Leipzig, you’ll also be able to take advantage of time at a test track and off-road driving area. Factory vehicles and instructors are available so you won’t have to use up your own brakes and tires (or embarrass yourself!).
Mercedes: Most models in Mercedes’ program are eligible for a 7 percent discount off MSRP. AMG models do not receive a discount, and M-, R-, and GL-class vehicles are built in Alabama and thus cannot be picked up in Stuttgart. Mercedes covers one night of hotel accommodations at your choice of 14 participating hotels, along with breakfast or lunch at the delivery center. They also provide two taxi vouchers for use in Stuttgart. Two-for-one economy flights on Lufthansa and other travel benefits are also included.
Audi: Like Porsche, Audi caps the number of U.S. customers who can take delivery in Germany. For Audi, it’s 375, or just 0.2 percent of sales. A 5 percent discount off MSRP applies to all models except RS-spec vehicles and the R8, which get no discount but can be picked up in Ingolstadt. Transportation from the Munich airport to one of three designated hotels, and from the hotel to the delivery center, are provided. Audi also covers hotel accommodations for one night and all meals on delivery day.
Volvo: A relatively high 1.3 percent of American Volvo buyers take delivery in Gothenburg, which Volvo says is because many of their customers are of Swedish heritage. The company offers discounts up to 8 percent off MSRP, though the actual amount off depends on the model. Unlike the Germans, Volvo fixes the price at MSRP, so you can’t haggle for even more discounts. However, round trip airfare for two on Scandinavian Airlines, pick-up from the airport, a one-night stay at a nearby hotel, and lunch at the Gothenburg delivery center are all included.
Steve Schutz, MD is a gastroenterologist who lives and practices in Boise, Idaho. A lifelong car enthusiast, he's been writing about cars and the automotive industry for twenty years.