Closing the Deal on Hot Wheels

All too often, buyers in the high-end car market are so driven by the need to have a fad car now that they walk into high-end dealerships with cash-stuffed briefcases on fire. But money still matters, and getting a good deal pays off, especially when the prospect of a resale rears its ugly head.

 

Actually, there is more to choose from in the rarified over-$100,000 market than you might think. But even at this level of car buying, the golden rule still applies: know the marketplace. “Being well-informed early on is the best way to get these cars,” says Jerry Siemons, president and CEO of Event Vehicles, in Calabasas, Calif. Siemons has been driving exotic cars since he was 17 and buying them for the Hollywood crowd (and himself) for more than 30 years.

 

“I’m an avid reader, and if I see something that looks intriguing I place orders two or three years in advance,” says Siemons. “Being well-informed and putting down deposits has probably saved me a lot of money.”

 

Another money saver is to shop in a location where you won’t be bidding against other well-heeled buyers for the same hot car. “It used to be that I could go to the country and get a better deal,” Siemons says. “But that doesn’t work as well as it used to. Some dealers are being told not to sell out of their market. Unless you are going to register it there, they won’t sell to you.”

 

Still, in the used (or “pre-owned”) car market, shopping the entire U.S. market is a definite option. After all, it only costs about $1,500 to ship a car from coast to coast, and getting a bargain price can easily offset this.

 

When Jeremy Anwyl, president of Santa Monica-based Edmunds.com, went to buy his 2001 Ferrari 550 Maranello, he consulted a variety of Web sites catering to the Ferraris. He wound up being referred to a dealership in the Los Angeles area where he knew he’d have to pay sticker price for the car. He found that a number of things had been added to the car, inflating the price, and he was able to negotiate a lower price on these options. Even so, the price came to, gulp, $226,095. “The big thing in this market is, ��When do you want it?'” Anwyl says. “If you have to have it today, you will pay through the nose.” 

 

When choosing your car, selecting the right options are important, too. For example, the Maserati Quattroporte’s option list allows for a high degree of personalization, but standard features typically found in lesser cars are expensive options here. And you don’t want to make a car’s package of features so quirky-with say a pink dashboard-that it’s difficult to resell later.

 

While most buyers in this market aren’t considering the purchase of an exotic car as an investment, depreciation  is a consideration, especially in this market where it can be particularly brutal (see sidebar “Exotics as Investments”). “Buying right” will make the potential downside look less daunting, but knowing whether to hold or fold is also important. 

Knowing how to finance the car is another critical aspect of any purchase. In most cases, the dealership can give you competitive interest rates, but if you are sure the car will retain its value and you know you will only be driving it a short time and few miles, you should consider an open-ended lease.

 

Jerry Duffy, vice president of Jefferson Leasing in Crofton, Md., says open-ended leases are superior to cookie-cutter closed-end leases for several reasons. For starters, the closed-end lease is built around specific mileage requirements, but most people don’t know how many miles they drive. If you drive fewer miles than specified, you don’t get a credit; if you drive over the limit, you pay extra. Closed-end leases also lock you into specific depreciation that may not prove accurate. The open-ended contract, on the other hand, allows you to terminate the lease at any time, with the residual set higher or lower depending on what kind of monthly payment is desired. (The most common reason for upping the payment is when your company will write off the contract, meaning your payoff at the lease’s end will be much lower.)

 

When setting up an open-ended lease, Duffy asks the client several questions: Is the manufacturer going to keep making these cars? How many of them will be made? How many miles will be driven? What will the car be worth in the future?

 

“Then I ask for a three-way discussion between the salesman, the customer and us,” Duffy says. “We have to come to a number (as the residual) and then adapt it up or down.” Most of Duffy’s lease contracts contain an addendum that says the value of this car is inherently volatile, meaning that it’s impossible to know how much it will be worth, and thus the three parties collectively arrive at a number.

 

While exotic cars depreciate quickly, they may “fully depreciate” within five years and then remain level for a long period of time. For example, a Ferrari might quickly drop from $225,000 to about $100,000 and then remain at that level for another 10 years before bouncing back.

 

But in the final analysis-if there is any-you’ve got to admit that depreciation isn’t the main concern. “Let’s face it,” says Siemons, “no one needs these cars-they want these cars.” But if you make sure to assiduously study the market, you get the best of both worlds: the pleasure of driving a world-class automobile, and the bragging rights that you got it at a smart price. 


Exotics as Investments

 

It’s true that, with rare exception, cars make bad investments, and brand new exotic cars tend to be the biggest money losers of them all. If you think you can actually make money on an exotic, keep the following facts in mind:

  • Timing is the largest factor that determines what you will pay. If you must own it “now,” you will pay a premium. Make a deposit and you might get a hot exotic at MSRP, but don’t count on it.
  • Volume, or the number of vehicles produced, is fundamental to the rules of supply and demand, and it’s no different in this market. If the vehicle you want is limited in production, the chances you’ll  pay above MSRP are high, but it’ll likely hold its value. With exotic cars, more than 500 units a year-or more than 2,500 total units produced during the course of a model run-should not be considered “limited production.”
  • Market appreciation is the exception, not the rule. Even if you buy a car early in its limited production run, and obtain the car for MSRP, the chances that the car’s market value will consistently stay above MSRP are slim. 

So forget about investment potential and buy an exotic car for what it can offer you today-a pulse-quickening ride, head-turning looks and an ego-boosting experience. Squeeze those dividends from a mutual fund.

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