How to Get Your Car Company to Pay for the Best Road Trip of Your Life
European Delivery programs, as they’re called, are the subject of many car enthusiasts’ curiosity and are offered by nearly every high-end automaker on the continent. Here’s how it works: You order your car from a dealership in the U.S. and then show up at the manufacturer’s doorstep in Europe. (In some cases, the brand will even pay for your flight.) You’ll get handed the keys to your new car and have the opportunity to drive it around for up to five months before leaving it at a designated drop-off point to be shipped to you at your home. Often, by opting for this option, you’ll get a significant discount off the car’s MSRP.
No, it’s not too good to be true.
Getting your Audi in Ingolstadt, Germany, for example, will save you up to 5 percent on a new TT. Showing up at Volvo’s Gothenburg plant can net you 8 percent off a V60, plus free flights to Sweden. Mercedes-Benz shaves up to 7 percent off select models (including the SL Roadster) for those willing to make the trip to Stuttgart. Once you’ve gotten the factory tour and the VIP treatment, the thinking goes, you’ll be hard-pressed to buy a car from another company ever again.
But for all the buzz that surrounds these programs, few know the inner details of how they work—much less which European Delivery programs offer the best value. BMW is hoping to change that, by offering the most luxurious package to drivers who want to come overseas. This summer, the Munich-based automaker struck a partnership with luxury travel outfit Butterfield & Robinson, ensuring its most loyal customers can cash in on a road trip that’s as much of a wow factor as their car.
It’s the first partnership of its kind for both companies in a push for brand loyalty that holds big consumer appeal. “We want to guarantee that this trip is better than your last,” said Larissa Radicke, special sales supervisor at BMW. “The whole experience that customers get at BMW Welt is amazing—and we were drawn to the way that Butterfield & Robinson creates full experiences, too. It’s a perfect match.”
How It Works
“European Delivery tends to be a word-of-mouth program,” said Radicke, who added that a majority of customers who make the trip to Munich come into a dealership with the idea in mind. All BMWs except for the i3 and some X Series models are eligible for the 5 percent discount—which is taken off the base MSRP price for both new purchases and leases. Options come with standard pricing, said Radicke.
Then, once you’ve designed your dream car and signed on the dotted line, the fun begins: Your dealer will set up paperwork to get you two weeks of complimentary insurance in Europe, and you can set a pickup date that’s at least six weeks and no more than five months into the future.
Later, a welcome package will arrive at your home address with key information, including special hotel and flight discounts and 11 destination points (mostly major cities) where you can culminate your road trip and drop off your car for free shipping back to your home dealership. Also in this package you’ll find an introduction to Butterfield & Robinson’s services, including a trio of suggested itineraries, all of which are optional but make the planning process seamless.
“People can certainly DIY their trip,” said Chris Mark, Butterfield & Robinson’s director for Germany and Eastern Europe, but “we’re here to help purchasers with the logistics—everything from expert guides and insider access to Michelin-starred restaurant reservations.”
Custom Trips for Custom Cars
Since debuting the partnership midsummer, Butterfield & Robinson has planned roughly a dozen European Delivery trips, for customers that range from CEOs and private-sector lawyers to a president of a major U.S. art institution. Like the cars these travelers buy, few itineraries are booked off-the-shelf. Some have been custom-tailored versions of three trips the company regularly offers from Munich—one to Vienna, one to Paris, and a tried-and-true loop around Bavaria—and some fully bespoke, with price points that hover between $500 and $600 per person per night.
There’s just one non-negotiable component. Every trip begins with a personalized experience at BMW Welt, the company’s architecturally dazzling headquarters in Munich. (It includes multiple restaurants, a museum, and the factory itself.) “We have this amazing second floor at the Welt that’s only open to European Delivery customers, with a lounge where they’re greeted with their names on a screen and a product information center where they can read all about the features of their vehicle,” said Radicke.
Then, she said, the company creates a spectacular reveal, where customers are escorted down a stairwell to find their shiny new wheels under spotlights and on a rotating platform. “I never get tired of seeing people’s expressions when they see their car for the first time,” she said giddily, as if talking about a first look on a couple’s wedding day.
After a “victory lap” around the facility, customers can drive off the lot and into Butterfield & Robinson’s trusted hands. “People either want to test out the performance of their car or go to really nice places,” said Mark. “One guy had very clearly Googled the top 10 drives in Europe and was driven by taking his car down narrow roads and steep cliffs, while another couple just wanted a scenic cross-country drive through France.”
Inside access is the rule rather than the exception. “On the Munich Alpine Loop, someone can drive down into castle country and we could set them up for a castle tour with a local expert rather than wandering through with an audio guide,” said Mark. “Or they can drive to Innsbruck and head to the top of the ski jump with a historic skier.”
Ultimately, it’s the customer’s interests that drive the itinerary—whether that means wine tasting in Burgundy or Christmas market tours in Vienna. And while BMW provides the European maps on a USB stick for navigational support, Butterfield will also advise on less-expected logistical concerns like seasonal road closures on Alpine passes or parking.
As for real gearheads? Mark said they spend most of their time on test tracks right near the BMW facility—proving that sometimes the journey really is more important than the destination.
Dollars and Cents
Though both companies say that costs aren’t a motivating factor for most guests, BMW’s car discount is significant enough to subsidize most—if not all—of a luxury vacation. A 6 Series Gran Coupe, for instance, starts at $81,400; in this case, the 5 percent discount of $4,000 would cover a four-night trip for two (without flights).
Butterfield & Robinson’s support, which comes at no additional cost, is key in terms of navigating a last-minute vacation planning landscape. “The biggest logistical pinch point is that people can’t really make their plans until they know the delivery date of the car,” said Mark, adding that the company is able to leverage relationships across the continent to squeeze customers into great hotels and restaurants on relatively short notice.
As for the two companies, European Delivery trips are just good business. “The biggest question we always get is why we incentivize the program,” said Radicke. “The answer is that we want to create brand advocates: We’re bringing customers into the heart of BMW, right to its very pulse point.” Butterfield & Robinson reaps the same benefit. “We have two operational offices and 55 years of history in Europe,” said Mark, “so we have the knowledge to pull this off—and the fit in terms of demographics and skill set are exactly right for us.” The company has an exclusivity arrangement with BMW in Germany, Mark told Bloomberg, but is in talks to strike a similar partnership with an Italian automaker that could come online in 2018.
Though the company has traditionally focused on walking and biking vacations, he says it’s easy to pivot from two wheels to four, and presumably vice versa. “Car tourism is really growing, and there may be some people that will be interested in our more traditional [biking] trips after experiencing our car trips—only time will tell.”