Saturday, August 24, 2013

European Car Delivery -- Big Savings and a Great Vacation

Bob with his Rebel Blue S60. Note Swedish plates.
Bob Brunton was a Volvo enthusiast years ago, and owned a treasured 240. Then, after a run of three Acuras, he came back to Volvo. But this time, Bob used Volvo's European Delivery program and enjoyed it immensely. We met the other day at Mil's Diner in Milpitas to talk about his experience.

This program has been offered by some European manufacturers for years, and it goes like this. Working with a dealer employee, often a European delivery specialist, you configure the car exactly the way you want it from the factory. Then, you fly over to retrieve it, drive it around Europe for a while, and then ship it home.

There are some real advantages to this arrangement. Because Bob worked directly with the manufacturer, he wasn't restricted to ordering a particular package. He could choose features a la carte, meaning, for example, that if he didn't want a sunroof ($1,800) he could delete it separately, along with the power passenger seat. He was able to select the sport suspension but with the smaller engine. That's not available here. He had a crack at some custom paint colors, too, and a light-colored interior not offered stateside. And, the car arrived in the U.S. with a fine set of French Michelin tires.

"The dealer said he'd never supply such nice tires," said Bob with a grin.

All cars slated for the U.S. are built to North American specifications, but still may contain features not found in the normal American fleet, such as rear-seat air conditioning vents.

As a financial representative, Bob likes to save money where he can. He estimates that by bypassing the dealer, he chopped about $8,000 off the price he'd pay in the U.S. He also got the standard 5 percent discount, and ended up with the exact car he wanted.

European delivery could be a great way to take a cheap vacation. When Volvo sells you a European Delivery vehicle, they give you two round-trip airline tickets to Sweden and put you up for two days in a fine hotel, in this case the Radisson Blue. After you arrive, you get a guided tour of the Volvo Museum and a three-hour visit to the factory to watch Volvos being built before your eyes.

"They take you from beginning to end," said Bob. "You see designers, then assembly workers, doing their jobs. The "marriage point" was a special favorite. "You could see the body and chassis meet there--a dramatic moment," Bob said.

At the factory, Bob and his contingent of about a dozen fellow car buyers got to meet with real Volvo workers and executives over lunch.

"They asked us what we thought, and we told them," he said. "For example, we'd like to get the Diesel model over here, there's a terrific small wagon I'd like to see, too."

Volvo provides a nice packet of materials on travel in Sweden, so you can visit castles, historic spots, great restaurants, and other attractions. There's also a ferry available to take your car with you overnight to Germany. When you land, you can drive right off the boat and test your new acquisition on the famous speed-limit-free Autobahn. Volvo provides car insurance during your stay. When you're done driving around, simply drop the car at one of the selected ports, making sure it's clean and ready to go, and six weeks or so later, it'll arrive in the U.S. You get a call and come down to pick it up.

If you travel on British Airways, you have the option of making a stop in the U.K. at no extra charge, for expanded vacation possibilities.

Bob lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, and had the car shipped there. But there are other choices.

"I know a couple who had the car dropped off on the East Coast and then drove it across the country," he relates.

There are a few downsides to European Delivery. Bob says he had some trouble convincing his bank to provide financing.

"They didn't want to finance a car that was sitting in Sweden," he told me. "But I had the VIN number, so it shouldn't have been a problem." He ended up using his Navy credit union. They are used to helping sailors bring home cars from outside the country and it was a routine deal.

The other issue is, you have to hang onto your old car until the new one arrives, so if you were planning to sell it to come up with a down payment, that could be a problem. Bob has a few extra cars in his small fleet, so it was OK.

If you're contemplating trying this exciting and money-saving process, you can contact your dealer, or look for options at the companies' websites. European delivery is offered by Volvo and also by Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. It's a great way to get the exact car you want at a discount price, connect with its birthplace, and have a subsidized foreign vacation in the process.

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