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The New Face of Luxury

High-end auto makers are reaching beyond rich leather and burlwood interiors to distinguish themselves. As posh down-market competitors press from below, choices like green engines, smaller vehicles and wifi are driving the luxury category
Paul A. Eisenstein
From the Print Edition:
Sylvester Stallone, July/August 2010

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Chosen retailers will set up a distinct showroom-within-a-showroom dedicated to Equus, and hire separate staff. Those sales personnel will, at the customer's request, go to his home or office to pitch the new product. Meanwhile, when service is needed, an owner will be able to opt for home or office pickup and drop-off, and a Genesis sedan will be provided as a loaner vehicle while the owner's car is in the shop.  

This strategy, according to some industry-watchers, could significantly transform the way carmakers and car buyers interact. Hyundai even plans to shift the simple act of scheduling service appointments. Rather than a conventional print owner's manual, each Equus will come with a large, iPad-like tablet. You'll not only be able to figure out how to operate the fold-out rear seats, but tap a button to automatically set up a service call. 

Once the world of luxury cars moved quite slowly. The level of change has reached a frenetic pace and is likely to accelerate as luxury makers race to stay ahead of not only their direct competitors. but even more mainstream brands. The good news for buyers is that tomorrow's luxury car will offer more features, more technology, and more choices-and the ability to customize the model you want in a way that's truly yours alone.

Contributing editor Paul A. Eisenstein also edits


Patience is a virtue, it's long been said. But don't tell that to the typical car buyer. Whether you're buying a Mini or a Rolls-Royce, odds are, when you're ready to buy, you'll walk into the showroom and buy something straight off the lot, as long as it's reasonably close to what you have in mind. Industry studies show that but a small minority of motorists are willing to place an order and wait until it arrives. 

But that's a mindset the folks in Munich are hoping to change. Hidden in the back corner of a faceless Bavarian industrial complex are the offices of BMW Individual. Where an assembly line once ran you'll now find a collection of sedans, coupes and crossovers, along with displays showing the many ways they can be customized to reflect a buyer's most heart-felt desires. 

"Individual is one of the pillars of our business," says Christine Fleischer, BMW's lead marketing consultant. Perhaps, but it's been something the automaker hasn't talked about much until now. 

As far back as 1992, BMW started to do custom work for its most demanding buyers-like the designer Karl Lagerfeld, who integrated some unusual fabrics, as well as a fax machine and a small refrigerator, in his 7-Series. That last feature is now on the standard option list on some models, but BMW will transform one of its mass market models into a personal statement in plenty of other ways. 

There are several levels of customization, starting with what BMW calls Individual Composition. Think of them as an expanded palette of options, such as uniquely stitched leathers and special wheels, to which affluent buyers can upgrade. On the 7-Series, that adds another $7,700 to the sedan's basic price tag.

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