U.S. car sales are in a slump, forcing automakers to revoke leasing plans and try new sales pitches to lure buyers. But American auto dealers increasingly are finding that technology enables them to turn troubles into opportunity elsewhere.
At New Jersey's high-end used car dealerships, showrooms are quiet. Americans just aren't shopping for secondhand Mercedeses and Porsches these days. Even so, some dealers say business is booming — they're shipping secondhand trophy cars to buyers overseas.
Vecdi Ugurlu sells secondhand cars at Royalty Auto Sales, just off a main drag in Little Ferry, N.J. He says 65 percent to 70 percent of his customers come to him from the Web, and they have money to blow.
"A guy from Japan got in touch with me," Ugurlu said. "He had a buyer here, and I sold a '98 Mercedes S320 to this guy that's been shipped to Japan. That's the Internet power."
And after Ugurlu listed a high-end Audi on eBay, he said, a buyer from Germany snapped it up.
While the overseas Web-based market has given some U.S. car dealers a boost, Internet transactions with overseas clients bring inherent risks. That's why when it comes time to sell, Ugurlu insists that the buyer or a representative appear in person at his dealership to pay.
Like other dealers in the area, Ugurlu doesn't get involved with the intricacies of shipping overseas. Instead, clients can drive their new car to the New York/New Jersey Seaport a short distance away.
Many of the vehicles the foreign buyers are having shipped are big. These buyers are even snatching up a portion of the glut of SUVs now sitting idle and unsold on American car lots.
Jerry Silverman sells secondhand vehicles to wholesalers in Hasbrouck Heights, N.J. He says he, too, has been getting some calls from overseas about big cars.
"Certain Mercedes-Benzes, their sport utility vehicles, are in demand in Europe," Silverman said.
Silverman says buyers want the little ones, as well.
"Japanese cars are very hot, both domestically and for export," Silverman said, "because they just don't consume as much fuel."
But he hastens to add that filling these requests from abroad is tough. Foreign buyers tend to want very specific makes and models that they know they can resell back home. And even if Silverman happens to have the right make and model, it still has to be the right color.
In certain countries, Silverman said, "white means funerals. They love dark-colored cars. Russians love black cars. Light-colored cars, for some reason, don't usually sell."
And the export market itself is fickle.
Silverman and Ugurlu say they welcome any opportunity to sell their cars abroad during these lean economic times. But if oil prices drop or the dollar strengthens, they say, it could all go kaput. Instead, they're banking on the locals to eventually start buying cars again — just like the old days.