You can buy handmade Italian leather shoes or perfectly aged French wine in the United States, but don't waste time looking for certain luxury cars.
Among the sets of wheels not available to U.S. buyers are the French-made Peugeot 407 and Citroen 6, and Italian-made Alfa Romeo Brera and Spider, and Lancia Thesis.
The reasons are simple. Many European automakers, such as Peugeot, produce diesel-engine vehicles, which haven't caught on with U.S. car buyers. And some vehicles made in Europe, like the BMW 1 Series hatchback and Mercedes-Benz B Class compact, have yet to stir interest among U.S. luxury car buyers who bypass such small hatchbacks, preferring roomy sedans and coupes.
Preferences aside, economics also play a role. It takes a substantial investment to produce vehicles that meet strict U.S. safety and emissions standards, and establish a dealer network, says Cody Lusk, president of the American International Auto Dealers Association, representing import auto makers. Those with a limited U.S. audience often aren't willing to spend money on developing a following.
"The U.S. is one of the most competitive car markets in the world," says Lusk. "Import automakers have to decide if they want to enter a shrinking, mature market like the U.S., or take their business elsewhere, to a growing market like China."
Superior Sets Of WheelsEnvironmentalists might say that's a shame. The Lancia Thesis features a solar cell sunroof and ventilated front and rear seats. The Citroen 6 is powered by a V6 HDi diesel engine, equipped with a diesel particulate filter system the automaker says is better for the environment.
Luxury seekers are also missing out. The German-produced Audi RS 6 Avant Wagon, which features a V10 twin-turbo gasoline engine and races from zero to 60 in 4.6 seconds, is not for sale Stateside. Neither is the Mercedes-Benz Viano MPV, a "multi-purpose vehicle" featuring second-row seats that turn to face third-row passengers, and a folding table that pops up in between.
And U.S. drivers that currently get behind the wheel of the Jaguar X-Type Sovereign Saloon And Estate might want to hang on to this model--it might soon become a collectors' item. That's because Jaguar plans to pull it out of the U.S. market due to slow sales; buyers will not see the new 2008 models that Europeans will see this spring. It plans to launch the new sporty XF sedan in the U.S. in 2010.
Alfa Romeo, however, has the muscle to elbow its way into the highly competitive U.S. market. It stopped selling cars here in 1995, but plans to return to the U.S. this year and sell its cars through the U.S. Maserati dealer network. Both automakers are under the umbrella of Fiat Holdings.
Fiat is not alone. Other European luxury makers believe there is some room on the U.S. market for more cars.
One trying to satisfy the appetites of picky U.S. buyers is BMW; it is bringing the 1 Series coupe and convertible to the U.S. in March. The 128i and 135i coupe will be followed by convertibles this summer.
The Viano, however, will not be joining them.
That's because, "our SUVs fit the demographics in the United States." says Rob Moran, a Mercedes-Benz spokesperson, "so we don't see a need to bring [it] to this market."