At South Bay BMW in Hermosa Beach, Calif., the sales force has been bracing itself for the sting of a sagging economy. But the only shortage has been cars, not customers. Buyers crave Bimmer so badly that about 40 percent of them wait three to six months to get their orders, according to U.S. News & World Report
"We thought the [declining] stock market would slow business down" at the Southern California franchise, says owner Fritz Hitchcock. "We're all pinching ourselves."
Since 1991, sales of luxury cars have crested and bottomed in direct correlation with the stock market -- except for this year. The Dow Jones average has fallen about 16 percent so far in 2002. But sales of luxury vehicles have risen 4 percent from already high 2001 levels, even though overall car sales are down, U.S. News & World Report
"Consumers are saying, `I'd rather have a nice car than a portfolio of stocks that drop every day,'" says Frank Ursomarso, who owns six dealerships, including a Jaguar, Volvo, and BMW outlet, in Wilmington, Del. "What's driving it is products customers want and where they see value."
Despite a languid economy, many consumers can
afford to splurge. Losses over the past two years may have been crushing, but a lot of Americans made so much money on stocks in the
late '90s that they're still ahead. "People are still in awfully good financial condition, on average," said Paul Taylor, chief economist
for the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA).
Luxury car makers have tapped into that persistent sense of well-being by reaching further down into the mass market to grab customers, with more affordable products, according to U.S. News & World Report