A Day in the Life What Makes the Average German Tick?

Part 6: How the Germans Drive


4:00 p.m. After work -- the Germans and their Cars

The average car owned by Germans stands in a gravel driveway behind a green wire fence. It is a six-year-old, silver-metallic VW Golf with a moderately powerful, 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine, central locking system, electronic window openers and air-conditioning. No other car is requested or sold more often. "It's a good car," says Elvan Ongün.

Ongün is 45 and wears boots, jeans and jewelry. He owns a company on the outskirts of Berlin called D.E.A.-Automobile. The business began as a gas station, which no longer exists today.

Ongün has been in the used-car business for the last 12 years. He operates at the lower end of the market, where shiny new showrooms are unknown, and where there are no colorful brochures or lattes for waiting customers. Ongün focuses on the basics. He sells cars, nothing else.

Germans spend an average of €8,400 ($13,440) for a used car. This gets them a 19-year-old Mercedes 560 SEL with a quarter-million kilometers on the odometer -- or a Korean Kia Picanto with only a handful of kilometers under its belt. But for most Germans, the Mercedes is too old and the Kia too puny. Instead, they tend to go for a car from the broad center of the automotive world, the compact class -- a Golf.

The Golf is largely classless, the way Germany once wanted to be -- at least before the gap between rich and poor started to grow in recent years. A Golf always looks good, as long as it's painted black or silver. And it never seems out of place, neither at the curb in front of the corner bar nor parked at the opera. An Opel, on the other hand, only works in front of a bar. Women prefer VW or Ford, while men have a fondness for BMW and Mercedes.

Ongün specializes in VWs and Audis, which means that he sells the car Germans buy most frequently and the one they would most like to see themselves in: the Audi A4.

The average German buys his or her first car, usually used, at 29, and then moves up to the first new car about 12 years later. When Germans buy a new car, they keep it for eight-and-a-half years, driving it 122,950 kilometers (76,414 miles) and changing the oil every 16,230 kilometers (10,087 miles).

In 2007, German drivers spent an average of €241 ($386) on maintenance and €163 on repairs. To keep their cars looking good, Germans wash them nine times a year. Four out of 10 accidents happen with women at the wheel, mostly because they ignored a right-of-way or didn't see another car while making a turn. Men are more likely than women to speed, drive while intoxicated and misjudge distances while passing another car.

Silver-Metallic VW Golfs are the the most popular cars in Germany, but the Audi A4 is the most desired.
DPA

Silver-Metallic VW Golfs are the the most popular cars in Germany, but the Audi A4 is the most desired.

To be able to afford their cars, the Germans take out loans to cover just under 30 percent of the purchase price, and used car buyers are just as likely to pay off their loans on time as new car buyers.

Before Ongün puts a car on his lot, he has it thoroughly washed and cleaned, especially the interior. About a quarter of Germans under 30 have had sex in their cars.

As in other countries, cars are increasingly being sold on the Internet in Germany. Eighty percent of Germans use the Internet to gather information while buying a car. In 2007, 970,000 used cars were sold through the Internet. Ongün isn't very happy about this phenomenon, since it is taking away some of his own sales.

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