Luxury limits Featured

9:52am EDT July 22, 2002

Luxury cars now offer executives the kinds of amenities one would expect in a wireless world in which the office oftentimes has four wheels and travels at 65 mph.

Fax machines, touchless phones and navigation systems are providing new-car owners the chance to stay connected to the world at all times without the possibility of even getting lost in the countryside. And that is supposed to be a good thing.

If you find this depressing, know that much of the luxury car market agrees with you. According to Gary Jackson, a sales associate at Baierl Acura, only 10 percent of new-car buys include a navigation system.

Most of his customers’ top priorities, he says, are safety and value, or what he terms “underpriced luxury.” Jackson has noticed a “downward trend in pricing,” with buyers more interested in the four-year warranty, roadside assistance, AAA service and loaner program Acura offers.

This is not to say that executives don’t enjoy comfort and prestige. One Mercedes Benz salesman comments that many customers come to his lot simply “for the three-pointed star.” The wait for a Mercedes S class sedan is five months.

Sport utility vehicles have crashed the luxury car party in a big way. Terri Howell, a Lexus sales associate, says she couldn’t keep Lexus RX 300s on the lot; she had only one left at the time she was interviewed.

Three other local car sales associates cite women as the driving force behind the craze. Jackson says many women feel more in control seated higher than they would be in a sedan. He notes that many women who feel uncomfortable driving a full-size sedan opt for SUVs that actually have longer wheelbases.

Jackson considers the SUV craze “a fashion, a fad.” Most front-wheel-drive vehicles are adequate for snow driving, he says, and SUVs tend to tip more easily because their center of gravity is higher.