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European delivery: The sweet deal few people talk about

At the BMW Welt exhibition and delivery center in Munich, opened in 2007, new cars await delivery to customers. BMW delivered its 150,000th vehicle there in 2015. Photo credit: OMARI GARDNER
> American dream
BMW customers don't have to fly to Europe for a premium new-car delivery experience. At no additional charge, the automaker also offers Performance Center Delivery in Greenville, S.C., about 30 miles from the automaker's Spartanburg plant. A customer can choose European Delivery and Performance Center Delivery for the same vehicle. For 2 guests, Performance Center Delivery includes:
  • 1-night hotel stay; dinner and breakfast at hotel; transportation to Performance Center; lunch at the center; factory and museum tour
  • Vehicle delivery and explanation of features by product specialist
  • Guided driving instruction; the customer can participate in handling, braking and traction-control exercises in a BMW fleet vehicle similar to the one he or she ordered.

MUNICH -- It's a cloudy October day here in Bavaria, but I am beaming as I cruise toward my hotel, top down with Herbie Hancock's "Chameleon" blaring from the speakers.

"That was cool," I say to myself. "That was really cool."

I had just been handed the keys to my new BMW 2-series convertible -- a car I had been dreaming about since seeing it on a frigid January day at this year's Detroit auto show -- and was ready to hit the autobahn.

Never would I have thought I would travel from Detroit to Europe to get a new car. And had I not stumbled across BMW's European Delivery program thanks to word-of-mouth on Internet social networks, I would have missed out on one of the best retail experiences the industry has to offer.

My journey, from discovery to delivery, spans 10 months and 10 time zones.

European delivery is far from a new concept. It's been around since the 1950s, when American troops wanted to import sporty European cars back to the U.S., according to Jonathan Spira of the Frequent Business Traveler website. Besides BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Volvo and Porsche offer European delivery to North American customers.

The idea is simple: A customer picks a dealership, places an order, fills out paperwork and travels to the automaker's delivery center in Europe.

In BMW's program, once the customer is ready to return home, the vehicle is dropped off at one of 12 points throughout the continent for shipping to North America. (Customers who want to ship from Italy must pay an additional fee.)

For customers, it's an opportunity to get a vacation and a new vehicle -- often, at a discounted price of about 2 to 7 percent off sticker, depending on the automaker. (Porsche does not discount.) For the European automakers, it's an opportunity to deeply immerse customers in brand culture and cement their loyalty. And for dealers, it's an opportunity to make some money without having to carry the vehicle in inventory. Sounds like a win-win-win. 

But it's not something many consumers hear about every day -- or ever. BMW's U.S. website has a page dedicated to European Delivery. But traditional TV, print, radio, Internet ads? None that I've seen or heard. 

I unearthed this gem with a deeper dive into the Internet. I imagine other BMW customers discovered European Delivery the way I did -- via social networks, not directly from BMW or a dealer. 

Since seeing the 2-series ragtop at the Detroit show, I'd been scouring the Internet for information on the car -- magazine reviews, driver opinions, photos, videos, etc. 

My search led me to 2addicts.com, a message forum dedicated to all things 2 series. (2addicts is part of Bimmerpost, which might be the biggest site aimed at obsessive BMW fans. It has discrete message boards dedicated to each BMW series.)

As I trolled the 2addicts site, I kept seeing "Euro Delivery," but I didn't pay it much mind. I was more focused on a message thread discussing the prices buyers had negotiated for their cars. But eventually my curiosity got the better of me. I found BMW's official European Delivery website. Sounded interesting, but I wasn't sold. 

Then I went on YouTube. 

After watching some of the dozens of YouTube videos of excited customers taking delivery of their new vehicles at the spectacular BMW Welt (or BMW World) in Munich -- and subsequently seeing photos, videos and firsthand stories on Instagram, Twitter and 2addicts -- I was hooked. 

On March 8, I emailed a California BMW dealership's Internet sales director whom I found on the 2addicts site. (For why I picked a dealership 2,000-plus miles from home, see story, at top). Shortly after, he emailed me back with a very reasonable lease quote. 


Customers get a bird’s-eye view of vehicles driven off the elevator in preparation for delivery. Photo credit: OMARI GARDNER

Sealing the deal

After months of anticipation, I pulled the trigger and submitted my order in July for a mineral white 230i xDrive convertible, the successor to the 228i that I originally had my eye on.

A couple of weeks later, I received a packet welcoming me to BMW's European Delivery program with a guide, a pair of BMW-branded luggage tags, an offer for discounted airfare via Lufthansa and leaflets suggesting Munich hotels at discounted rates. (I could not take advantage of the discounts because I would be in Munich during Oktoberfest, when hotels are in high demand.)

In September, the Internet sales manager and I went over the final details of my lease. Then the dealership sent me the lease contract, tire-and-wheel policy contract and other paperwork. I shipped it right back.

Two weeks later, I was off to Munich.

Here's how it went:

Sept. 29

I land in Munich on a bright sunny morning. Just one snafu, the only one of the trip: BMW offers shuttle service from the airport to your hotel in a 7 series. In my excitement, I gave BMW of North America the wrong date of my arrival. Oops!

No worries. I take the train to my hotel without incident. Would have been nice to get that ride, though.

> Tour of Europe

European automakers have made available to North American customers programs that go above and beyond typical vehicle delivery. All programs include road insurance, vehicle drop-off spots throughout Europe and shipping back to the U.S.


Delivery center: Munich
Customer benefits: Discounted airfare on Lufthansa/Star Alliance airlines; shuttle in BMW vehicle from Munich airport to hotel or BMW Welt; discounts at preferred hotels; food and beverage at BMW Welt; 10 euro (about $11) voucher at gift shop; factory and museum tour


Delivery centers: Sindelfingen and Bremen, Germany
Customer benefits: $200 airfare voucher on Delta; 2 taxi coupons from airport to hotel or delivery center; 1-night stay at hotel in Stuttgart; breakfast or lunch at delivery center; factory and museum tour


Delivery centers: Ingolstadt and Neckarsulm, Germany
Customer benefits: Shuttle in an Audi vehicle from Munich or Frankfurt airport, or Munich or Neckarsulm train station, to hotel or Audi Forum; 1-night stay in hotel with morning transportation to Audi Forum; meals throughout delivery day; factory and museum tour


Delivery centers: Gothenburg, Sweden, for free; 12 other centers throughout Europe with fees ranging from $600 to $795
Customer benefits: 2 round-trip airline tickets via SAS; shuttle from airport to hotel and Volvo Factory Delivery Center; 1-night stay at hotel; lunch; factory tour or visit to Volvo Cars Brand Experience Center


Delivery centers: Stuttgart and Leipzig, Germany
Customer benefits: Cab fare; 1-night stay at hotel; factory and museum tour; lunch

Sept. 30

I emerge from the subway station near Olympiapark and catch my first glimpse BMW-land: the company's iconic four-cylinder headquarters, assembly factory, BMW Museum and the BMW Welt.

My BMW brand immersion begins with the 1:15 p.m. English-speaking tour of the factory, which builds 3- and 4-series cars. European Delivery customers are given free admission for the tour, which is normally 10 euros, or about $11.

About two dozen tourists are escorted by our guide, Tina, who walks us through assembly, the paint shop, engine assembly and the body shop. Tina explains the processes in meticulous detail -- sending a message about BMW's craftsmanship.

After the two-hour tour, I take the walkway across the street to the place I've wanted to see for months: the BMW Welt.

Opened in 2007, the airy, three-floor Welt -- dressed in futuristic, high-tech metallic hues and large panes of glass to let the sun in -- is part vehicle-delivery center and part exhibition hall.

The company invested $550 million in the new building and refurbishing the BMW Museum. At the opening ceremony, then-CEO Norbert Reithofer said: "BMW Welt is not a museum, nor is it just a delivery center. It is the home of the brand."

The Welt delivered its 150,000th vehicle in late 2015.

Admission is free for all. On the first floor are exhibits with BMW, Mini and Rolls-Royce vehicles, a restaurant and a gift shop. The second floor has BMW motorcycle displays, restaurants and a deck overlooking the area where customers take delivery of their vehicles. The third floor is the Premium Lounge, exclusively for European Delivery customers.

Upon the receptionist's recommendation, I take the elevator to the Premium Lounge to check in a day early. It takes all of 10 minutes to sign the final paperwork. Afterward, I'm invited to hang out in the lounge, which has a buffet of light food, wine and -- of course -- German beer.

As I stand on the lounge's observation deck, I watch Welt staff drive new vehicles out of the elevators onto the display floor. (Each vehicle is prepped for delivery below, behind the scenes, driven into one of two elevators, and parked on the delivery floor.)

Customers are taking deliveries of their new vehicles, a scene I had watched over and over on YouTube. As I imagine myself in their shoes, the anticipation is building.

After a couple of hours, I leave the Welt -- only because Oktoberfest was calling my name.

Oct. 1

The big day is here. At last.

But first things first. At noon, I take advantage of free admission at the BMW Museum (like the factory, normally about $11). My visit coincides with BMW's 100th anniversary -- on Oct. 3, the museum debuted its 100 Masterpieces exhibit.

The museum, founded in 1973 and refurbished in 2008, is another opportunity to immerse customers in the company's century of history and culture. Dozens of vehicles from throughout the automaker's life span are on display, plus placards describing BMW's history through inception, World War II and the present.

After a couple of hours, I cross the street back to the Welt. My delivery isn't scheduled until 4:50 p.m., the final one of the day. So I hang out in the Premium Lounge for lunch and wait for my appointment.

A little restless, I go downstairs to the gift shop to claim my 10 euro credit, which I use to get a BMW-branded drink tumbler. Also, I receive a complimentary key chain with my name etched on-site.

I head back upstairs to the observation deck. Then, it happens: My new convertible is driven off the elevator. I snap some photos, wait and grow more excited.

Finally, it's time for my appointment. I'm greeted by Bernd, my client adviser, with a friendly smile and handshake. It's time to greet my new car, right? Not so fast!

First, we visit the Product Info Center. Bernd escorts me to a new set of elevators, and we go to the second floor to an area well-hidden from the rest of the Welt. Its warm wood floors and carpeting and quiet are a stark contrast to the metallic, industrial motif of the Welt and the ambient noise from visitors.

Bernd takes me to one of several large screens. He calls up a computer-generated image of my new car. The image is an exact match of my order, from the mineral white exterior to the terra-cotta leather seats to 18-inch wheels to the aluminum interior trim to the Harman Kardon speakers to the navigation. No detail is missed. For about 15 minutes, Bernd walks me through a virtual presentation of the car while explaining the multitude of functions.

Afterward, we go back to the third floor for the moment: descending the "Stairway to Heaven." The staircase leads down from the top floor to a large landing, where customers are presented their new cars.

My new car is sitting in the prime position at the very bottom of the staircase. Bernd punches a few buttons on his tablet computer. Suddenly, my new 230i convertible is bathed in soft light, and a turntable slowly spins the car. It's like being on a game show. I shoot video of the car turning while gawking -- partly in silence and partly in disbelief that this was really happening.

Victory lap

The rest of the delivery mirrors a typical dealership experience. Bernd shows me how to lift the hood and how to use the navigation system, watches me as I connect my phone via Bluetooth, and shows me how to activate and adjust the safety systems. The process takes about a half hour.

With that, I take my two key fobs, adjust the driver's seat, crank up the radio and breathe a big sigh of relief as I hit the start button.

And now, the grand finale: the "victory lap."

Customers are invited to drive around the circular Welt delivery floor as people watch from the observation deck. Because I'm the last delivery of the day and the Welt is less crowded, I take two laps. Then I drive down a ramp, wait for the doors to open, and I hit the streets of Munich with a full tank of fuel and 14 days of free road insurance.

Over the next week, I travel through the hills of Bavaria and the mountains of Switzerland to Zurich and Geneva. Then through the French Alps and rolling countryside to Paris. I head back to Munich, thoroughly satisfied.

I drop the car off at LogInOut -- conveniently located at Munich's airport and a two-minute walk to the terminal -- which arranges shipping to the U.S.

On the flight home, I reflect on the BMW European Delivery experience compared with the eight times I've purchased or leased a car in my life. The closest comparison is when I bought my first car, a 2-year-old Saturn SL1 from the now-defunct Saturn of Tallahassee in Florida in 1999: No haggling and a culture of customer care, including free food and drink at the dealership. Saturn provided a premium experience at a mainstream price.

As my car makes its slow voyage aboard the Grand Duke vehicle cargo ship across the Atlantic from Germany to Brunswick, Ga., before being shipped to a BMW dealership near my home, my friends who followed my trip on Facebook told me either they didn't know about European Delivery or they knew someone who did it and enjoyed it as much as I did. At least two friends now are interested in the program.

Whether it's through BMW or its competitors, I highly recommend it.

> American dream
BMW customers don't have to fly to Europe for a premium new-car delivery experience. At no additional charge, the automaker also offers Performance Center Delivery in Greenville, S.C., about 30 miles from the automaker's Spartanburg plant. A customer can choose European Delivery and Performance Center Delivery for the same vehicle. For 2 guests, Performance Center Delivery includes:
  • 1-night hotel stay; dinner and breakfast at hotel; transportation to Performance Center; lunch at the center; factory and museum tour
  • Vehicle delivery and explanation of features by product specialist
  • Guided driving instruction; the customer can participate in handling, braking and traction-control exercises in a BMW fleet vehicle similar to the one he or she ordered.
You can reach Omari Gardner at ogardner@crain.com

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