- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 22, 2005

The shiny new car, topped with a big red bow and parked in the driveway on Christmas morning, isn’t just commercial fantasy or every 15-year-old’s dream.

Luxury auto dealerships in the Washington area say about 20 percent to 30 percent of their December sales are purchases made as holiday gifts, prompting them to keep a hefty supply of oversized red bows.

About 20 percent of customers buying cars at the Rosenthal Jaguar in Vienna, Va., this month are buying holiday presents, sales manager Ogun Yilmazer said.

The dealership is usually in on the plan, dropping the car off at friends’ homes or around the corner from the recipient on Christmas Eve.

“We ruined one surprise … we called the house and the wife [who was to receive the car] answered,” he said.

They don’t call the house anymore.

The Jaguar XJ8 is the most popular gift model and runs about $61,000 — at the low end.

Andrew Menditch, a salesman at Northwest BMW in Owings Mills, Md., sold two BMW 325XIs to one man last week — one for his daughter and one for his wife.

“He’s giving the cars to them for Christmas. For his daughter, it’s a surprise and his wife, it’s not,” Mr. Menditch said.

The bill: about $80,000.

Holiday presents are about 25 percent to 30 percent of December sales at the dealership, general sales manager Jon Orofino said.

Men typically are the buyers and give the cars to their wives or girlfriends, the dealers said.

About half the time, Mr. Orofino said, the recipient knows about the gift in advance to choose colors and styles. But sometimes, the men try to keep it a secret. They do some covert groundwork, trying to pick up hints on favorite colors and must-have accessories, sometimes rousing suspicion in their recipients.

“Even if they have an idea, when they actually get it, they’re surprised because it’s such a big gift,” he said.

There are no industry figures on the number of cars given as gifts, but the concept of a car as a holiday present picked up steam in 1999, when Lexus started its “December to Remember” advertising campaign. The ads featured a man or woman buying a Lexus — topped with a bright red bow — for a grateful spouse.

The campaign, which includes print, radio, television, Internet and showroom spots, was designed to play on the idea of December as a gift-giving month and giving a loved one a dream gift.

The company now produces 600 bows to distribute to customers who buy cars as gifts, said Deborah Meyer, vice president of marketing at Lexus.

“December has become a very focused month for us. The ‘December to Remember’ event has added to that growth,” she said.

December sales have averaged about 20 percent higher than projected since the campaign began, Mrs. Meyer said.

The big red bow has since become a staple in auto showrooms each December. And rival automakers BMW, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Infiniti and even midline Honda have started holiday-related advertising campaigns.

The Lexus campaign, coupled with low interest rates, is expected to help sell about 350 cars this month at Lindsay Lexus of Alexandria, said sales manager Jack Blush. The dealership typically sells 200 or so each month.

Customers are typically looking at the ES330 sedan or RX330 sport utility vehicle, he said. They run about $32,000 and $37,000, respectively.

“There are people who don’t want to pick it up until Christmas or we park it someplace special on Christmas Eve … in the neighborhood, around the corner,” Mr. Blush said. “It’s kind of fun.”

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