The Ultimate Souvenir: BMW’S European Delivery Program

By Jonathan Spira on 1 March 2006
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Since the 1960s, several thousand Americans each year have taken a trip to Munich, Germany with one goal in mind.  Unlike the other American tourists, they are not there for the beer, the Schnitzel, the museums and art galleries, and the Gemütlichkeit alone.  The real reason for the trip: to pick up a new BMW at BMW’s factory delivery center.

The author's new BMW 330xi at the InterContinental Hotel and Resort in Berchtesgaden

The author's new BMW 330xi at the InterContinental Hotel and Resort in Berchtesgaden

For years, BMW has been among a handful of European automakers that offer Americans the option of picking up their cars at the factory.  The Americans take delivery, drive on the Autobahnen, Bundesstraßen, Landstraßen, and Autostrade of Europe for several weeks, and have the cars shipped back to the United States.  The trip has become almost an annual ritual for some; indeed a third of the customers have picked up a car at the factory in previous years. I am a member of that group, having joined the club in January 1982

2363 BMWs were sold through BMW’s European Delivery program in 2005; in 2004, the number was 1999. Customers are drawn by packages that can include significant discounts (published discounts are seven percent on most models; individual dealers will frequently offer even better pricing), discounted or free airfare, meals, and the thrill of a factory tour that is the birthplace of the car being picked up.

Just as legend tells us that the Loreley bewitched the hearts of sailors on the Rhine, the Autobahn bewitches the hearts of American drivers.  The opportunity to drive a BMW in its native habitat, the German Autobahn, is a major draw.

The European Delivery program has its roots in the 1950s when members of the U.S. armed forces returning from Europe brought with them a taste for smaller, sportier European cars. Many shipped their own cars to the States with the help of E.H. Harms Auto Forwarding & Shipping.   Harms was founded by Egon H. Harms, a German soldier who had been captured by the Americans at the Battle of the Bulge.  After he was released, he started moving military vehicles back to different ports; as more U.S. bases were built in Europe, he began shipping soldiers’ cars stateside as well.

At the time, other than the occasional Volkswagen Käfer (Beetle), a non-U.S. manufactured vehicle was an unusual sight in the United States.  Their appearance was mostly due to U.S. soldiers and to Max Hoffman, the Austrian emigrant automotive entrepreneur who, starting in 1948, single-handedly created the imported car business in the United States and during his career marketed Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Porsche, Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Jaguar, and BMW vehicles.

Most of his energy was focused on BMW. Hoffman started importing BMWs in the 1950s, and he was the exclusive importer from 1960 until March 1975, when BMW of North America was formed, reportedly buying Hoffman out for $16 million.  Hoffman remained co-chairman and a member of the design committee (he was instrumental in the creation of the BMW 507).

In the mid 1960s, with the advent of the jet age, Hoffman saw an opportunity to boost both sales and mindshare for BMW by offering prospective buyers the opportunity to take their first European vacation and drive around Europe in their own car (naturally, a BMW), which would follow them back to the U.S., giving the traveler a unique experience, saving money on the car purchase, and eliminating rental charges.

Hoffman was not alone. By the end of the decade, Mercedes, Saab, Volvo, Porsche, and Volkswagen all offered factory delivery for tourists.

European Delivery sales are arranged through BMW dealers in the United States.  Many dealerships have one salesperson as a designated specialist.  With minor exceptions, the cars do not come out of the dealer’s allocation so there is no floor cost to the dealer; essentially, it’s like selling an extra car.  Buyers should expect more paperwork (after all, buying a car usually doesn’t involve one’s passport) and buyers need to be aware that the wait time for redelivery can be six weeks to eight weeks.

Buyers receive premium auto insurance with no deductible for 14 days.  It can be extended at extra cost.  Each car is custom built, and needs to be ordered at least three months prior to the desired delivery date.  Buyers need to be aware of German (and other national) holidays when making travel plans; the delivery center is closed on German holidays and drop-off centers (over a dozen throughout Europe) are likely to be closed on local holidays.

European Delivery also has a “season” which runs from mid-March to mid-November.  Deliveries in the off season, after mid-November, are not recommended if your car comes with summer or performance tires.  German law requires the use of winter tires (tires must be designated with M+S, and all season tires do qualify).


Despite multiple prior European Deliveries, this is the first time I was to go through the entire process, starting with ordering a car from scratch.  For previous deliveries, I had selected a car from the pool of cars BMW maintains for those customers who decide to pickup their car at the factory on short notice.  Fortunately, they always seemed to have the exact car I wanted.

Placing the order with Ricki Shamen at DiFeo BMW

Placing the order with Ricki Shamen at DiFeo BMW

But this time was different: I went to meet with Ricki Shamen at DiFeo BMW on 27 August to place my order.  I had already reviewed all of the colors and options available, so placing the actual order was easy.  Ricki had obtained a production number for me rather quickly, and soon we were tracking my car through the manufacturing process, from 112 (effectively, “about to be built”) to 155 (production completed) to 170 (“at Delivery Center in Freimann for pre-delivery inspection”).  The car I ordered was a 2006 330xi, in Sparkling Graphite with a black leather interior.  Options included the Premium Package (which includes BMW Assist with Bluetooth Wireless Technology), Parking Distance Control, the Sport Package, Styling 162 wheels, iDrive and satellite navigation, Comfort Access, the Cold Weather Package, and power rear sunshades with manual side window shades – pretty much everything but Active Cruise Control, automatic transmission, and Active Steering.

We set a date for the delivery: 10. November.  That meant my car would be manufactured in mid October, ca. one month prior.  And it was, on 11. October.

As the date drew closer, I finalized an itinerary.  I would fly directly to Munich on the ninth and stay the first night in Munich.  After that, I would stay four nights at the InterContinental Resort in Berchtesgaden and make day trips from there.  I would drop off my car in Garching bei München on the 15th, and fly back to New York later that day.

The ninth of November arrived more quickly than I had anticipated.  I had set my alarm for three hours earlier than usual to get a jump on Central European Time (this works every time, ensuring I will be quite sleepy by the time we are aloft).  By coincidence, two acquaintances from the BMW Car Club of American, Rich and Jill Zimmer were to be on my flight as they were picking up an Electric Red E90 325i.

By the time I arrived at JFK, that evening, I was ready to settle in for a long, comfortable flight.  Rich and Jill were waiting for me in the Lufthansa Senator Lounge.  Due to inclement weather, our departure time was repeatedly delayed.  This gave us lots of time to enjoy sandwiches, Brezeln, and Spaten Oktoberfest Bier vom Faß.

After a comfortable flight (Lufthansa’s seats do fold into completely flat beds that are quite comfortable) and multiple delays due to weather conditions on both sides of the Atlantic, we finally arrived at Flughafen München Franz Josef Strauß at 11:45.

Rich and Jill joined me for a quick ride to the Delivery Center.  Upon arrival we headed upstairs to the café, where Thomas Roller, manager of the BMW Delivery Center, was waiting to meet with me.  Rich and Jill completed their paperwork and were brought to their new Electric Red 325i.

The BMW Welt under construction in November 2005

The BMW Welt under construction in November 2005

My next meeting was at BMW Welt  with Helmut Pöschl and his colleagues who are planning BMW Welt (more on BMW Welt in an upcoming article but I can promise it will make European Delivery even more of an experience).  Herr Roller offered to accompany me to my meetings, but allowed me to see my new car for a few seconds before we sped off in a very fast 130i.  We didn’t make it back until 17:30 and the Center was empty.  Herr Roller himself did the delivery and off I went to my “Stammhotel” on the Leopoldstraße, the Holiday Inn. This hotel is highly recommended for BMW owners doing European Delivery for one reason (besides the enormous breakfast buffet): the very safe underground parking garage.

The adventure had only begun.  See a related article, Journeys: Austria, Germany, Hungary, and Italy by Car, for details on the 2426 km drive.


Diplom-Kaufmann Thomas Roller is the manager of the BMW Delivery Center where European Delivery cars are delivered.  He has some suggestions to make the European Delivery experience more fun and less stressful for American visitors.

  • Order Satellite Navigation and get the DVD for Europe.  Having navigation in the car will allow you to enjoy your trip without going astray.  Asking for directions in a language you don’t speak and reading a map for an unfamiliar city takes away one’s enjoyment of the places you came to enjoy.  Arriving hours late for a once-a-day tour can ruin a vacation.
  • Learn a few phrases German and the language(s) of any countries you will be visiting.  “Danke” (thank you), “bitte” (please and you’re welcome), and “Guten Morgen” (good morning) will go a long way.
  • Plan for local weather.  Don’t order a car with summer (performance) tires for a mid-December delivery.  You (and your car) won’t get very far.
  • Read the materials BMW provides, including information about drop-off locations and hours. Ask questions at the delivery center before leaving.
  • Don’t overplan.  Many first-time visitors to Europe try to see everything.  Pick a few destinations and get to know them well.
  • Verify the location and hours for your intended drop-off location when you pick-up the car at the Delivery Center.


The BMW of North America Web site presents an overview of European Delivery, including pricing.

Driving along the Autobahn towards Innsbruck with friends right behind (visible in side-view mirror).

Driving along the Autobahn towards Innsbruck with friends right behind (visible in side-view mirror).

The European Delivery forum at Bimmerfest attracts over 10% of BMW’s European Delivery customers.  They spend time in this online forum, asking questions, making vacation plans, even learning important phrases in German.  Moderated by Bernard Wang, the European Delivery forum at Bimmerfest is a time-tested resource for novice and experienced purchasers.

Rolf Raffelsieper – BMW Pick-up Service.  Herr Raffelsieper started working at BMW in 1967.  He will pick you up at Flughafen München Franz Josef Strauß (airport) and take you directly to the BMW European Delivery Center in Freimann or to your hotel.  He will gladly pick you up from your hotel and take you to the Delivery Center and can also meet you at E.H. Harms and take you to the airport after your drop-off. He can also arrange various tours, including visits to BMW facilities of interest.  E-mail Rolf at

Ricki Shamen, DiFeo BMW.  It is rare to work with the same BMW Client Advisor for 16 years.  I have worked with Ricki on multiple European Deliveries (and several U.S. deliveries) over the past 16 years. She enjoys each customer’s trip as much as if she were along for the ride.   Contact her at

European Delivery Calendar.  Photographs from Germany and Austria along with all U.S., German, and Austrian holidays make the European Delivery 2006 calendar a valuable reference and keepsake.

Lufthansa. Lufthansa, German’s flagship airline, serves Munich from 16 cities, offering non-stop service from New York City (JFK and Newark), Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Charlotte, and Boston (in the summertime).  Most flights are operated with Airbus A340 aircraft, configured in a two- or three-class configuration.  Newark flights offer a 44-seat all business class alternative using a Boeing 737-700 corporate jet.  Lufthansa just opened up a new first class lounge in Munich with limousine service to the plane.  For European Delivery customers, Lufthansa offers a special two-for-one package. Visit Lufthansa at

InterContinental Resort Berchtesgaden.  The InterContinental Resort Berchtesgaden is located close to the Bavarian/Austrian border some 150 km from Munich and 35 km from Salzburg, making it an excellent destination for a European Delivery trip. The mountain resort sits ca. 1,000 m above sea level on the Eckerbichl Mountain range, offering spectacular views of Berchtesgadener Land.   Visit the hotel’s Web site for more information.

Holiday Inn Munich City-North  The Holiday Inn, located in the heart of Schwabing, is a short distance from the Englischer Garten and the many shops and cafés on the Leopoldstraße.  It is also situated within minutes of the A9 and has a safe, self-park garage ideal for a brand new BMW.  Visit the hotel’s Web site for more information


1.) Ca. three months before the desired date, decide the color and options, and negotiate the price.

2.) Sign the purchase order which your dealer then submits to the European Delivery department with your desired delivery date

3.) Your car is manufactured ca. 30 days prior to delivery

4.) You pay for the car, usually 14 days before scheduled pick up day; if you are leasing, your lease starts on this day.

5.) You pick up the car in Munich.

6.) You drop the car off in Europe (within 30 days for BMWFS lease, 90 days for BMWFS finance, 6 months otherwise; insurance for 14 days is included).

7.) Car is transported to port and then put on board ship

8.) Your car reaches USA (from drop-off, this takes up 3-4 weeks for the East Coast, 5-6 weeks for the West Coast)

9.) Vehicle clears customs, is processed at the VDC and shipped to the dealer (depending on a variety of factors, including how backed up U.S. Customs is, this can take 1-2 weeks)

10.) Redelivery


Once a BMW owner drops off his car at one of the authorized drop-off points, what happens to it?  For many, the four to eight week block of time is a black box during which all the owner can do is obsess and try to track the vehicle using fairly rudimentary tools.   Once a car is dropped off, it goes by truck to Bremerhaven, Zeebrugge (if the car is dropped off in Amsterdam, Madrid or Paris) or Southampton.  If a car is dropped off in Italy, it is driven to Munich for further transport.

All cars are loaded on the same vessels in the same manner; the only difference is that privately-owned vehicles (the European Delivery cars) have priority over new vehicles if there is a space limitation.

New cars are cleared through customs electronically before the ship reaches port; privately-owned vehicles are cleared individually and manually (paper forms must be sent to customs).

The author's car being checked over at BMW's Vehicle Distribution Center (VDC) in New Jersey

The author's car being checked over at BMW's Vehicle Distribution Center (VDC) in New Jersey

The VDC, or vehicle delivery center (previously known as the VPC), is where your car will be received upon its entry into the United States.  Most cars go to the Port of New York, where they are received at the North East Auto-Marine Terminal.  Cars destined for the west coast go to the VDC at the Port of Hueneme in the Oxnard Harbor District.

When the ship arrives, cars are offloaded by stevedores to the first point of rest, also called the pier, which is part of the Northeast Auto Terminal.  European Delivery cars are segregated on the pier until they are cleared by customs inspectors, who physically inspect each car.

Once the cars are cleared and released by customs, the cars are inspected by AVI (Automotive Visual Inspections) for any damage. Northeast Auto Terminal personnel then shuttles the cars, a ca. 2.4 km trip on a private road, to the VDC.  Once the cars arrive at the VDC, barring the removal of the cosmoline (which European Delivery cars do not have), the process is the same.  Upon arrival, the cars are taken into inventory, washed, and taken into the facility.  Each vehicle is visually inspected for damage.  Damage might have occurred during use in Europe and during transport.  The VDC is especially concerned with safety-related damage or defects such as broken lights or gouges in wheels.  They also check for any factory defects such as “airbag light on.”  Any campaigns (normal updates) are performed and the car’s paper trail is reviewed.

From there, the cars go to your local BMW dealer for redelivery.


Keeping in touch with friends and family nowadays during a trip doesn’t mean sending a postcard, unless it’s a digital one.   Given the ubiquity of Wi-Fi, a traveler has little excuse but to e-mail a few pictures of his new BMW within hours of delivery. Having the right arsenal of tools can make this a lot easier.

For this trip, I assembled the following:

  • Camera – Sony CyberShot DSC-V3 (7 megapixel)
  • Mobile phone – tri-band Sony Ericsson S710a for use with the BMW’s built-in Bluetooth system (phone has with built-in 1.3 megapixel camera)
  • Laptop – Lenovo (née IBM) ThinkPad T42 with built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity
  • Internet Connectivity – Most hotels (including the InterContinental) have wired if not wireless Internet access.  At rates of $20-30 per 24 hours, it is expensive compared to the U.S. standard of $10 per day. Internet cafés and wardriving offer an inexpensive alternative.
  • Skype – Skype’s voice-over-IP (VoIP) services allow users to make free calls to each other; a call to a landline phone in the United States from Germany costs € 0.017 per minute.  Skype can be used to place phone calls from Lufthansa flights with FlyNet at the same rates.

–Jonathan B. Spira is the Editor of Executive Road Warrior and Chief Analyst at Basex, a knowledge economy research firm.

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