Economic sense finally trumps status? Sales of used luxury cars up

You want that new Beamer and you want it now. But everyone around you is getting laid off, and spending $50K on a new car isn't the most prudent move, you know. What do you do? Buy a certified pre-owned BMW. Save big...and no one will probably notice. You hope.

That's the way the thinking's going these days, apparently. Sales of used luxury vehicles are still strong, despite the face plant new car sales have taken these past quarters. According to the Wall Street Journal (subscription required), Toyota Motor Corp.'s Lexus brand says its dealers sold 4,348 "certified pre-owned" Lexus vehicles in January, a new January record for the category. Certified pre-owned Lexus sales rose 19.5% in January 2009 compared to a year earlier, even as sales for new Lexus cars in January plummeted some 35% from a year earlier.

Sales data from other luxury car makers, including Mercedes-Benz and BMW were also up in the "Certified Pre-Owned," or CPO, category.

Does this mean that the well-off are finally getting clever? It's long been common wisdom that a new car is one of the worst investments you can make, depreciating the moment you drive it off the lot. A luxury car a few years old, especially a CPO, with an extended warranty, can be nearly 50% off the price of a new one.

Considering how expensive luxury cars are to maintain, the urge to buy luxury still strikes me as pound foolish. I know several people who only drive luxury cars, and who have twice the problems maintaining them as I do with my very down-market Toyota. I understand the desire for cache and all, but I've always wondered at what point economics trumps the need for status. Maybe these new figures are the start of the larger trend.