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Is your definition of luxury attached to the car or to the brand?

Are you paying for the product or just the prestige of the badge?

Do you put more weight to the badge or to the car's actual value for money? PHOTO FROM AUDI

You just got your long-deserved promotion. Congratulations! Your wife and two kids are happy. And the dog, too. Oh, and by the way, that promotion to vice president comes with a car and a budget of P2,500,000. Woohoo! You’re about to graduate into the big leagues, able to trade up your trusty compact for a midsize (maybe even luxury) sedan. What’s it going to be?

Before we go too far, let’s begin by crystallizing what your concept of luxury is. The dictionary defines luxury as something “very expensive, not essential but desirable, enjoyable and indulgent.” Where does that lead?

Indeed, P2.5 million can buy you a lot of expensive metal. Surely, it catapults you into a range of cars that you have long drooled over—desired no doubt—for no other reason than, well, you want them. Any model that dealers trot in front of you will certainly deliver new levels of thrills, frills and enjoyment.

That leaves indulgence. For me, indulgence is luxury. Price is a handshake. Desire makes you go for that first date. Enjoyment is mere foreplay. To indulge, yes, is to hit it out of the ballpark. Surely, to indulge oneself is to exceed reason and throw your cares to the wind. You do it because—what the heck—you can and you want to. Your decision-making switches from left to right brain, from head to heart. Your knees buckle. You give in.

That is why I would guess that 99% of all luxury marketers are obsessed with making (and keeping) the oft-elusive emotional connection with customers and would-be buyers. Precisely because the emotional connection justifies, so to speak, the leap of faith that it takes to dig deep—very deep—into one’s pockets.

Marketers play to the heartstrings in order to release the purse strings. It is what luxury brands tap into and what allows them to reap extremely generous returns. Being able to feed and nurture that emotional connection over time makes the difference between true luxe and fake luxe. Time is the ultimate test. To borrow from the Patek Philippe ad campaign: “You never really own it; you merely look after it for the next generation.”

Luxury marketers play to the heartstrings in order to release the purse strings

So let’s talk about cars. What would you want to be driving around as a newly promoted vice president?

When you talk about luxury cars, a few brands quickly come to mind: Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi. You might even throw in Lexus. Maybe. And so you begin searching the Web for info, lurking on social media for enlightenment, and checking in with family and friends for validation. After a quick visit to an online car-shopping guide, you soon find out that the S-Class is way out of reach of your newfound affluence. The 5-Series is likewise too pricey. And the A3 and the C-Class sit just outside the outer limit of your HR policy—as do the ES and the IS.

Eventually, you find yourself in the territory of the 2-Series Active Tourer, the 1-Series, the A-Class, the CT200h and the A1. Good cars and exciting choices, to be sure. You broaden your scope some more and find other options that offer luxury but aren’t on your short list. SUVs abound but, for simplicity’s sake, you stick to sedans.

A few more clicks on the car-shopping website and you notice the highest-grade Chevrolet Malibu, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Mazda 6, Subaru Legacy, Toyota Camry and Volkswagen Passat. They are bigger and better equipped, with more bells and whistles, too—all in the same price range.

These days, midsize sedans from nonpremium brands give their luxury counterparts pretty stiff competition. PHOTO FROM HONDA

There’s the rub: Are you looking for a luxury brand or a luxury product? Are they the same? Would you cash in your chips for a top-of-the-line model from a mass-market brand, or go for a lower-end, not-quite-bottom-of-the-line offering from a premium brand? How much would you compromise on size, power, driving performance, riding comfort and amenities? Does the badge on the front and the rear of the car matter more than the product itself? What is indulgent?

For the same price, what are you really in the market for? A nonpremium-brand sedan that provides you with abundant luxuries in terms of driving and creature comforts, or a luxury-brand model with not as many features but with a badge that makes you feel good because of the cachet? What is your brand of luxury? That’s just the thing: You get to make the call.

Personally, my luxury is time. I know it doesn’t quite flow from the stream of prose above. But frankly, I choose whichever product or experience helps me make the most of my time—or whichever elevates my life and makes me enjoy every moment. That is my true north, my true luxe.

What’s your luxury?

Vince S. Socco

Vince is the chairman of GT Capital Auto Dealership Holdings, a post he accepted after his retirement from Toyota Motor Asia-Pacific. His career began in 1979 with Delta Motor Corporation (Toyota). He mentors everyone—in real life and through his ‘Navigator’ column.