Byline: Kimberly Pfaff

Judging from the results of the WWDLuxury survey, America’s longstanding love affair with the automobile has shifted into high gear. When asked which brand outside of a fashion category they most associated with the word “luxury,” consumers definitively weighed in with the names of top-drawer cars.
Speeding to the top of the survey is Mercedes-Benz. Now part of DaimlerChrysler, Mercedes’s hallmark has long been its emphasis on high-performance innovation; the $11 billion company devotes up to a quarter of its budget on new technology.
Today, the firm’s most high-profile models are its new, entry-level C-Class offerings, which start at about $30,000. “Our idea was to be more approachable, not to take ourselves too seriously,” explained Ken Enders, vice president of marketing. “But the styling and the performance features are still the same.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Rolls-Royce, rated the number-two luxury brand, has fostered a legion of avid collectors, thanks to elite, $150,000-plus models like the Silver Cloud. Its latest: the $359,900 Corniche, a made-to-order convertible.
Jaguar, at number three, has long been hailed for its fluid lines — there’s even a classic XKE convertible on display at Manhattan’s Museum of Modern Art. The firm quickly sold all 250 of its $97,000 2001 limited-edition XKR Silverstone convertible.
Lexus, ranked number four, represents the newer vanguard of luxury cars. The high-end division of Toyota, Lexus came onto the scene only 12 years ago with sophisticated, yet well-priced luxury sedans. The newly redesigned flagship model, the LS 430, is about $60,000.
With the tag line “The Ultimate Driving Machine,” BMW, the number-five brand, is serious about creating performance vehicles. “When we have to make a decision on ‘Do we invest more for the ultimate technical solution, or do we cut back?,’ we always spend the money,” said Jim McDowell, vice president of marketing. By comparison, says McDowell, BMW’s marketing budget is relatively small, and the company looks for creative ways to make an impact. Case in point: While there was no ad campaign for the retro-styled Z8 convertible , BMW’s priciest offering at $128,000, it was featured as James Bond’s car in “The World Is Not Enough.”

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