Picking up a car in a foreign country is quite the adventure, but most folks don’t realize how doable it really is.
Aside: Before we get too far into what constitutes “doable”, I fully realize that the purchase of a luxury car is exactly that: a luxury. The goal of this post is not to convince you to spend beyond your means or to insinuate that such a purchase is a drop in the bucket, but merely to help inform those who may already be considering such a thing.
How it Works
When most folks hear about European delivery, they assume that it means you book a vacation to Europe, visit the factory, and pick a car up off the assembly line. That’s not quite how things go down. Let’s take a look at what really goes on.
Your European journey starts in a relatively normal place — your local BMW dealer. Most dealers have someone specifically devoted to handling European delivery, as there’s quite a bit of careful coordination needed on the dealer’s side of things. This person is quite literally going to ensure that your trip and car are exactly as you intend, so make sure you get along well with them and find them to be competent. If you get a bad vibe, find another dealer.
The next (and most obvious) step is to pick the car you want. For me, it was easy: The 335d was what I was after. I merely needed to test drive it a couple times to be double super ultra sure. Clearly this is the stage worth spending ample time on. Find the model and accessories that are right for you. This is a great time to bounce ideas off friends and loved ones but remember, everyone is different. Follow your gut.
With that decided, it’s time to build your car! This is the really fun stage. You get to build your BMW exactly the way you want it, with all of what you want and none of what you don’t. Line by line, feature by feature, you decide. If you have never experienced car buying like this, you have no idea what you are missing. It’s an extraordinary thing to not be limited by what is on the lot. It also avoids the age old problem of the salesman trying to convince you that what he’s got is great just so he can move inventory.
With your final spec in hand, your dealer will submit your order to BMW Munich. Depending on their production schedule you will also be given an opportunity to select a few dates for the actual pickup. Once BMW Munich receives the order and processes it (this can take a week or two), you will have your pickup date locked in and it’s time to book your tickets!
A couple weeks prior to your departure, your dealer will call you back in to finalize the down payment as well as your final European destination (this is where you will drop the car off for shipment back to the States — more on that later).
But isn’t this all horribly expensive? Well, I’m glad you asked! To some extent, yes. You are buying a luxury vehicle, after all. Still, let’s take a look at how things break down — it’s much better than you might first imagine.
BMW is one of the few automakers that not only offers European delivery of your vehicle, but gives you a discount for doing so. Yes, that’s right, BMW will actually pay you for the privilege of picking your car up in Munich. Contrast this with other automakers who either don’t offer the service or who charge a premium for doing so.
So, if you’re already looking to have a BMW custom built for you (which does not cost extra), you have two options:
- Pay the price you negotiate
- Pay less than the price you negotiate and get a German vacation out of it
Sounds like a deal to me.
But, it doesn’t stop there. BMW USA has a great deal set up with Lufthansa so that your companion flies free. Yes, that’s right. Free. When you consider that airfare is one of the biggest chunks of vacation spending, this makes a huge difference.
On top of all that, BMW offers specially tailored vacation packages so you can quickly and easily plan your trip. Johanna and I didn’t opt for any of them, choosing instead to plan our own itinerary, but it’s a great option for those who are too busy/don’t know enough about Germany/can’t be bothered.
The (Ultimate) Driving Experience
So you’re saving money on the car and getting a German vacation out of it. That’s pretty excellent in its own right. But remember, this isn’t a trip to the crowded streets of LA, NYC or Chicago — and you’re not stuck in Munich. You have free reign of the single greatest man-made transit system in the world: The Autobahn.
Don’t get me wrong, the US has one of the better highway systems in the world. Through an incredible set of post-WWII investment we have the modern infrastructure that makes our economy possible. But nothing we have here can compare to the Autobahn.
From the unbridled speeds to the quality and care that goes into it, the Autobahn is a resource unparalleled. It stands as a true testament to German efficiency at its finest. As such, there is no better place on earth to see what your BMW can do. From the slopes of the Alps to the plains of northern Germany, you’ll find few places in the States that put your car through the wringer quite like the Autobahn.
The one downside in all of this is the wait involved. Not only do you have to wait for your car to be built in Munich (which can be a matter of weeks to months, depending on BMW’s production schedule) but you also have to wait for your car to reach you back in the States. The latter usually takes 8 to 10 weeks.
Now is when you realize the world is still a large place.
Why 8 to 10 weeks to make the journey? Well, you can thank two factors: Customs and the Panama Canal (for those of us who live on the West coast).
Every BMW destined for the West Coast first makes its way to a major port on the East Coast, usually New Jersey. This initial step in the journey could take anywhere from 1-2 weeks, depending on the port and when the next major shipping vessel leaves. Once in the States, the car is unloaded from its ship and has to clear customs. Depending on the shipping backlog, this can take a week or more.
Once off the ship, it’s loaded back on to a new ship! This time, for the long journey down the Eastern seaboard and through the Panama Canal. From there, it makes its way up to Long Beach, California, waits a variable amount of time based on the customs backlog, and then gets unloaded, loaded on to a truck, and driven to your BMW Center.
All in all, depending on delays, that’s an 8 to 10 week process.
Making the Call
In the end, only you will know for sure if this is an experience worth spending your time and money on. While I expect to have specifics to share along the way, I can already tell you that it will be worth it.