Buying a car in Europe is a good deal (and fun to boot)

European car-delivery programs-- in which you pick a vehicle up at the factory and ship it home-- have been around for donkey's years. (You save because the manufacturer rewards your loyalty with a discount, and your dealer, if scrupulous, doesn't take a cut.) Recently, as the long knives have come out in the luxury car market, the deals have become even sweeter.

Saab, for instance, has extended through November a Euro-delivery program that includes two round-trip coach tickets to Trollhättan, Sweden, from several major U.S. airports; free car shipment from any of three drop-off points to the stateside dealership of your choice; a night's stay in a manor house hotel; duties and port fees; and administrative help with insurance and licenses. Overall, not a bad way to save 5 percent-- or about $2,000-- on a loaded Saab 9-5 sedan. (Details of the 1999 program haven't been finalized, but odds are that it won't change.)

Here's what other European car makers have to offer:

  • VOLVO Based in Göteborg, Sweden, Volvo offers Euro-delivery from its headquarters or any of 12 other European cities. You need to make a deposit two months in advance and pay the balance (as well as $375 for 15 days of comprehensive insurance) a month before arrival. What you get: round-trip airfare (for one); shipping from one of four drop-off points; all duties and fees. You can save up to 10 percent off the domestic-delivery purchase price (a pretty penny when you're talking about a V70 XC AWD costing $33,000).
  • MERCEDES-BENZ Airfare isn't covered, but the saving on a Mercedes picked up in Stuttgart-- for example, $3,145 off an E430 sedan with a stateside price of $51,895-- buys some nifty airplane seats. Understanding that you might want to take the car for a spin before shipping it home, Mercedes has a package that includes airport transfers, two nights at select hotels, a factory tour, all shipping and duties, and two weeks of zero-deductible comprehensive insurance. For $1,000 more, you can buy the five-day Black Forest­Alps Rally tour package.
  • BMW More than 1,200 Americans flew to Munich last year to save as much as 10 percent on a BMW-- that's over $10,000 on a 12-cylinder 750il. BMW threw in 30 days of insurance, and the usual shipping, fees, and licensing. Next year, in a twist, the company will open a Performance Center at its South Carolina plant. Europeans can buy a Z3 sports car there, tour America, and have the car shipped home.

To organize a purchase, call your local dealer. As always when you're buying a car, the dealer sets the price-- so shop around.