All I want for Christmas is an $80,000 luxury car

Gifts account for up to 20% of December sales; most buyers are men

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jhalliday@crain.com

What's on your Christmas list-a Lexus, a Jaguar or a Lincoln?

While it may seem excessive to some to put a $75,500 XK Coupe (figuratively) under the Christmas tree, luxury-brand dealers around the U.S. tell Advertising Age that between 5% and 20% of their December car sales are holiday presents.

So up to one in five luxury autos sold this month might be gifts- mainly from men buying for their significant others-and virtually all the gift cars are convertibles, said Alan Graham, general manager of Erhard BMW, Bloomfield Hills, Mich. "Most [purchases] seem to be real impromptu. People come in a day or two before" the holiday, Mr. Graham said.

busiest month

Other luxury dealers echoed his claims, noting, in fact, that their best sales month of the year is December.

The busiest week of the year at Park Place Lexus, Plano, Texas, is between Christmas and New Year's, said Troy Tucker, new-car sales manager. "We sell more cars in that one week than during any other week of the year."

Lexus has been the most consistent in its year-end holiday advertising. Toyota Motor Sales USA's luxury marque started using its "December to Remember" ad theme in 1995, and in 1998 dressed cars with giant red bows as part of the push. It wasn't until 1999, however, that ads from Team One, Santa Monica, Calif., started showing people giving the cars as gifts.

Deborah Senior, corporate manager-advertising, Lexus, estimated that 10% of vehicles bought in December are presents. Lexus gives a couple of bows to each dealer and lets them order more if they want to, Mr. Tucker said. He has ordered about 100 enormous red bows and ribbons this holiday season. "We'll use them all," he said. Several buyers have already told him they want new cars bedecked and delivered as surprise holiday gifts.

Ralph Fisher, general manager of Mercedes-Benz Manhattan, estimated about 10% of his December new-vehicle sales are gifts "in some way." He said sometimes buyers "reward themselves for a good year" or after their holiday bonuses arrive. The showroom sold more than 300 new vehicles last December.

Nashville dealer Martin Bennett sells Jaguar, Audi and Porsche brands, but Jaguar has been the most popular for holiday gifting, he said. He estimated gifts account for well under 10% of his December Jaguar sales. Mr. Bennett's Jaguar showroom "gets a push," from seasonal ads, he said, lamenteding that Jaguar has strayed from its "Unwrap a Jaguar" holiday ad theme.

His most memorable holiday customer: country crooner Garth Brooks, who strode in to buy five Jaguars for his management team.
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