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Thinking Of Picking Up A New Car In Europe? No Big Savings (But Fun!)

12/21/2016 05:21 EST | Updated 12/21/2016 05:21 EST
Thomas Winz via Getty Images
Driving on an autobahn at dusk

Ever toyed with the idea of picking up a new car at the factory in Europe and touring around for a few weeks? Or did you assume that was something from a by-gone era?

In truth, it is mostly a thing of the past. In 1956 Motor Trend magazine listed 16 manufacturers that offered European factory delivery. Included were storied names like Peugeot, Citroen, MG and Triumph.

Today only four manufacturers offer the service to Canadians - BMW; Mercedes-Benz; Porsche; and Volvo.

I first experienced European delivery in 1970, taking possession of a Triumph at their Coventry plant. They did it up right - a plant tour; lunch with management; a presentation of keys.

With more than a little nostalgia, I recently decided my next car purchase would be a factory delivery and set out to research options. Here is what I found:

Volvo - The Swedish-based manufacturer, offers the most perks to purchasers. You receive two round-trip air tickets to Scandinavia; free pickup and transfer from the airport; one night at a luxury hotel in Gothenburg, Sweden; a VIP factory tour; 15 days comprehensive insurance; and a "generous" discount from the price paid at home.

BMW- The Munich-based company certainly doesn't pitch its offering on price - indeed, they say "the MSRP for European delivery is the same as if you were having it delivered here...so there is no extra charge for this service." There is a free tour of the factory; the usual 15 days of insurance; plus you get to start in fun-loving Munich.

Porsche - First the bad news - Porsche's main delivery center in Zuffenhausen (near Stuttgart) will be closed until sometime in the summer of 2017. The good news is that you can go to the factory in Leipzig which normally handles deliveries for the Cayenne, Macan and Panamera models). As with BMW, you are promised no price concessions. You do get free pickup at the airport, a free night at a hotel and a factory tour.

Mercedes-Benz- As with Porsche, you travel to Stuttgart. There is a stark contrast between the U.S. and Canadian packages. Americans are offered a 7% discount on price (Canadians a small fraction of that); a $200 travel voucher with Delta Airlines (Canadians: Nope); one free night at a luxury hotel (Canadians need not apply).

On the face of it, Volvo offers the best deal and Mercedes comes close - but only if you are an American ordering through an American dealer.

In the end I selected Mercedes - based on the fact that my previous Mercedes had performed trouble-free despite having been driven 355,000 km. In contrast, a BMW product I purchased had its engine rebuilt twice with less than 100,000 km clocked on the odometer.

The vehicle settled on was the 2017 E300, decked out with every driver-assist option one could imagine. As discussed in a previous article, the autonomous features worked like a charm on European highways. (Unfortunately, some of the autonomous features are not activated in North America).

I picked up the vehicle at the Presentation Center (they handle 300 deliveries daily) and had the car on the road for a month, putting 3,500 km on the odometer.

Here's my take on the pluses and minuses of today's European delivery:

PLUSES:

• No need for a rental car. Over 15 days, your savings are significant

• Driving your vehicle on some terrific highways, including those with high (130 km) or non-existent (sections of the Autobahn) speed limits

• Reduced customs duty and sales tax on a "used" car - in my case, a savings of $2,000

• The factory tour, which is actually fascinating

• They do make you feel pretty special when you pick up the car

MINUSES

• The worry of driving your own car - my fender was slightly damaged while parked

• Kkeep the car beyond the 15-day limit, you lose the "free" coverage and pay for a full month

• You have to pay for your vehicle in full, upfront

• It takes 5-6 weeks for the car to ship back to North America

• You can only drive the car in EU countries (plus Switzerland and Norway)

This latter point was particularly relevant for us, as we had originally planned to drive as far south as Albania, via Montenegro and Bosnia. In 1971 I drove the Triumph Spitfire all the way to Moscow and back. With proper visas and insurance, it was not a problem.

Today it would be a big problem. If you leave the EU, you are deemed to have exported the vehicle and cannot return. This caused us to ultimately end up trapped in Dubrovnik, Croatia, surrounded by non-EU countries. We ended up taking an Adriatic ferry - purportedly popular with smugglers, pirates and war criminals - get around a sliver of Bosnia and back into the EU.

BOTTOM LINE

If you are looking to save significant money, with the exception of Volvo, European delivery is not going to provide that. It is all about the experience of picking up a car at the factory, being treated like a VIP, and then driving around Europe - as long as you stay within the EU. Would I do it again? Ask me in 11 years.

(Robert Waite was Product Information Manager for Ford Motor Company in Washington, D.C. and Oakville, Ontario. He received no consideration from Mercedes Benz or any other manufacturer.)