Big bonus? Buy a Rolls

Published December 20, 2006

For the corporate executive with some extra holiday cash to spend, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars is offering a limited-edition Phantom exclusively at its Beverly Hills, Calif., dealership.

The vehicles, of which only six were made, feature mother of pearl inlays, commemorative plaques, chrome 21-inch wheels and a lounge seat DVD system, all for a mere $370,000 each.

Too pricey? Mercedes-Benz created the Signature Edition CL600 luxury coupe, which it offered exclusively through Saks Fifth Avenue's holiday catalog for $160,000 each.

All 20 of the CL600s sold in less than eight minutes on Nov. 14. Last week, just three of the six special-edition Phantoms remained.

With financial markets posting record gains in recent months, luxury vehicle manufacturers are hoping that executives will be driven to spend their year-end bonuses on new cars for themselves and their loved ones. At the same time, some automakers have kicked their TV ad campaigns into high gear and boosted their incentive offers, in hopes of drawing shoppers to dealerships.

"We are in a unique position with the stock market being so strong this year," said Chris Marchand, western regional manager for Rolls-Royce.

"We think it's a great opportunity with the Beverly Hills edition, and with Rolls-Royce in general, to get people in the dealerships and in a Rolls-Royce. We want to be the luxury vehicle of choice for the people who have the disposable income to spend on something like this."

While it's difficult to tell how many Rolls-Royces sold during the holiday season are for gifts, Marchand said that December sales generally account for about 15 to 20 percent of a year's sales, compared with 8 to 10 percent for each other month.

Paul Taylor, chief economist for the National Automobile Dealers Association, said demand for luxury vehicles this time of year isn't limited to Rolls-Royces.

"Certainly, the purchase of cars as gifts has been a growing phenomenon in recent years," Taylor said.

In addition, studies have found a direct correlation between the performance of the stock market and sales of luxury cars, potentially making this year's holiday season a strong one, Taylor said.

"Our inventory numbers indicate a very strong selection of new cars, so the key factor this year is for those dealerships to have a lot of those red, white and green bows in stock, because that can be a deal-killer if customers want the car and a big bow," he added jokingly.

The Lexus bows

Arguably, the automaker best known for its holiday ad blitz is Toyota Motor Corp.'s Lexus division, which each year floods the airwaves with images of shiny new cars decorated with big bows. Greg Thome of Lexus said the company started its "December to Remember" holiday ad campaign in 1995 and added the trademark bows in 1998. "People almost expect to see the ads every year, from an annual television standpoint," Thome said. "Just like the Coca-Cola polar bears, they expect to see the Lexus ads as well."