Most folks see good old tourist delivery as one more casualty of globalization.
But with the spring selling season just about here, and summer vacations not too far down the road, automakers might be able to turbocharge tourist deliveries and restore marketing appeal to boot.
Once upon a time, just about every European automaker had a plan where you could buy a car at a dealership in the United States and pick it up at the factory overseas. The happy customer could drive it around on his European vacation before shipping it home.
The volumes were relatively small, but the possibility of a trip to Europe enhanced the mystique and allure of the brand.
Some upscale European marques still have tourist delivery programs, and visiting the factory where your car was built is still a thrill for some well-heeled enthusiasts, even in North America.
But it helps if you have a cool location.
As a former Volkswagen public relations official told me, building VWs in Pennsylvania and then Mexico pretty much killed tourist deliveries for that brand.
Perhaps. But just maybe we're thinking about this all wrong.
OK, globalization has had an effect. What anglophile wants to pick up a Bentley in Germany? What Porsche fanatic would want to pick up a Boxster or Cayman in Finland?
In this country, you can go to the BMW plant in South Carolina and take delivery. It may not be as sexy as a trip to Germany, but new BMW owners still get the red carpet treatment there.
I can't recall any Japanese or Korean automakers offering tourist deliveries. You don't usually think of a vacation in Asia as a fly-and-drive adventure.
But why shouldn't Toyota push tourist deliveries at its new Texas plant?
I can see the ad copy now: "Come to truck country, and drive home a souvenir," or "Texas is a whole other country, building a whole other pickup!"
It might even help overcome some of the residual perception that Toyota builds trucks for city slickers, not for real guys who do real work.
But it's Dodge that has a real opportunity here.
The Mexican truck plant might not be a draw, but if VW starts building small Dodge sedans in Mexico, tourist deliveries just might take off.
Think of the possibilities: Spring break, Mexico and a new car.
My guess is that young buyers who wouldn't go to Belvidere, Ill., on a dare to pick up a new Caliber might be willing to flock south of the border to take delivery of a VW-built sedan, then tool around some resort for a few days before heading home.
Some folks say tourist deliveries are dead.
I say it's the wave of the future.
You may e-mail Edward Lapham at [email protected]