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Does anyone really get a car as a holiday gift?

If commercials all came true, everyone would find a sparkling Lexus adorned with an oversize red bow in her driveway this Christmas.

If commercials all came true, everyone would find a sparkling Lexus adorned with an oversize red bow in her driveway this Christmas.

The offscreen reality is that most people feel lucky if the wheels they unwrap are attached to a bicycle. So, does anyone really get a car as a holiday gift - especially in this sputtering economy?

"Believe it or not, they still do," said Frank Cooke, sales manager at Mini of the Main Line in Bala Cynwyd.

"I probably have 10 or 12 vehicles that are already bought and paid for," said Jack McCartney, sales manager at Lexus of Cherry Hill, "that are sitting out back until . . . the customer comes, and they'll pick them up and take them to a neighbor's garage to hide them."

In good times or bad, statistics show that vehicles - fancy and frugal ones - bought as gifts are a tiny portion of new-car sales.

Last year, 1.53 percent of new-car sales, or 17,516 vehicles, were given as gifts, says Oregon-based CNW Marketing Research Inc. In 2000, when the economy was purring along, 29,018 new vehicles were given as gifts, representing 2.34 percent of sales. Still, that is an elite fleet of very happy recipients.

This year, teacher Heather Korenkiewicz is among that group.

Her husband, Michael Korenkiewicz, who works for a sales and marketing company, dramatically revealed Monday what her big Christmas present would be. When the doorbell rang at their Mount Laurel front door, he said, "It's for you."

"I opened the door, and there was a little gift bag," she said. "There was a Lexus key in there."

On Tuesday, the couple, along with nearly 4-month-old Chase, were at the Cherry Hill Lexus dealer to pick it up. Since a car does not fit in a gift box, the white SUV was parked in a room off the showroom - topped, of course, with a giant red bow.

Heather, holding Chase, walked up to it and excitedly told the baby, "Your daddy has been very good to us this year."

Very, very good - especially considering they agreed to spend no more than $25 on a gift for each other.

Not everyone is happy to get a car. McCartney recalls one man, about five years ago, who came in with tears in his eyes the day after Christmas. The man described to him his wife's reaction.

"He's like, 'Surprise, Merry Christmas, here's your new Lexus!' And she's like, 'Are you crazy?' "

The man said his wife threatened to divorce him if he did not return the car. (Let's just say the price tag for a new Lexus ranges from $40,000 to an otherworldly $280,000.)

Often, though, the family has been talking about buying a new car anyhow - the timing, and the way it is given, turns the purchase into a present.

Some people, like Michael Korenkiewicz, sign the papers, but leave the vehicle at the dealer, so their loved one can choose a different color. Others plan a Christmas-morning surprise at home. Where there is family drama, there are videos online.

In one video, the wife, Tammy, sits in a living room crowded with toys as she unwraps a large box. Inside is a smaller box holding a smaller box that has puzzle pieces in it. She assembles them to find a picture of Abraham Lincoln. She stares at it until she sees a sentence in the puzzle's background: "I'm sitting in your driveway."

She goes outside - to find her new Lincoln.

"Shut up!" Tammy says in disbelief. "Shut up!"

In another video, a woman leads her husband outside as their children scream, "Merry Christmas, Daddy! We got you a Jaguar." He is silent for a few seconds and finally stammers, "You got me a -" and then turns silent.

Customers, of course, expect the big red bow, which the dealership will lend them, McCartney said.

The bows on cars at Cherry Hill Lexus cost the dealership about $120 each, he said, though customers can buy good-size ones online for about $30.

Christmas is the busiest time for selling big bows, said Ken Dolan, an outside-sales representative for MBR Marketing Inc., which is in Warminster and sells to dealers and individuals.

"I'll spend a day just delivering bows," he said. (Though, he emphasized, it is too late for this year.)

The first year Lexus began its holiday marketing campaign, McCartney did not know about the bow business - and was unprepared for customers' requesting the ones they saw on television.

"We would have people asking us, 'Do you have the red bows?' They wanted the big red bows they saw in the commercials to go with the car they were buying as a Christmas gift."

So, before the next holiday season hit, he called Lexus offices in California and asked where to buy the bows. The number he was given turned out to be a Hollywood prop store that had provided bows for the ads. He spent $600 per bow that year.

Usually, customers return the bows Dec. 26.

"Quite honestly," McCartney said, "there's not much use for a giant red bow once the surprise is done."