Automobile manufacturers market specific makes and models that are targeted at particular socio-economic classes, and thus "social status came to be associated more with a particular vehicle than ownership of a car per se."Therefore, automakers differentiate among their product lines in "collusion" with the car-buying public. While a high price is the most frequent factor, it is "styling, engineering, and even public opinion which cars had the highest and lowest status associated with them.
Every era in automobile history has had "a group of car marques and models that have been expensive to purchase, due to their alleged superiority of their design and engineering". Aimed at wealthy buyers, such automobiles might be generically be termed luxury cars."This term is also used for unique vehicles produced during "an era when luxury was individualistic consideration, and coachwork could be tailored to an owner like a bespoke suit." Although there is considerable literature about specific marques, there is a lack of systematic and scholarly work that "analyzes the luxury car phenomenon itself."
Luxury vehicle makers may either be stand-alone companies in their own right, such as BMW and Mercedes, or a division/subsidiary of a mass market automaker (e.g., Lexus belongs to Toyota). Badge engineering may often be used for economical cost savings, such as most Lincoln vehicles being based on Ford.
Though widely used, the term luxury is broad and highly variable. It is a perceptual, conditional and subjective attribute and may be understood differently by different people: "What is a luxury car to some… may be 'ordinary' to others."