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BMW Canada’s Innovation Drive Puts You Behind the Wheel

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Words: Shawn Molnar | Photos: Shawn Molnar As the producer of fine, high-performance automobiles, BMW faces a peculiar sales challenge in the Canadian market. Congested …

Words: Shawn Molnar | Photos: Shawn Molnar

As the producer of fine, high-performance automobiles, BMW faces a peculiar sales challenge in the Canadian market. Congested urban roadways and conservative speed limits conspire against the sporting nature of BMW’s athletic lineup.

The purchase of a new car is likely to be the second biggest purchase you will ever make. Not surprisingly, the discerning buyer takes their time while comparing cars from several competing manufacturers. But in the monotony of an ordinary test drive, it is difficult if not impossible to appreciate the dynamics of a thoroughbred performance car.

BMW Canada’s Innovation Drive Puts You Behind the Wheel

BMW Canada presents a solution. In their words, “put the consumer behind the wheel of a high performance car, in a high performance setting.” I like the way they work. How else could the average consumer get a taste of BMW power, handling, and safety before making their purchase decision?

Safety? Yes, safety. Heresy you say: how could a high performance car be safe? Quite simply because a car that can turn, stop and accelerate quickly on a racetrack can also turn (around the wayward pedestrian), stop (short of hitting the bus that just cut you off) and accelerate (safely while merging) on public roadways. In short: performance equals safety.

BMW Canada’s Innovation Drive Puts You Behind the Wheel

The event begins indoors where friendly, knowledgeable product experts offer an overview of BMW cars and their core characteristics. Canadians attending this event were given a special treat: Pierre Savoy, BMW’s chief driving instructor was on hand to explain several new BMW technologies, and to help participants better understand the physical reasons why BMW cars perform so well on track.

BMW Canada’s Innovation Drive Puts You Behind the Wheel

Heading out to the track, participants experience a buzz of excitement – something foreign to the average test drive. Several brand new BMWs sit idly, lined up in parallel rows. After instructors explain the course layout, attending drivers jump behind the wheel.

BMW Canada has gone out of their way to design an impressive autocross course, one that allows you to experience the phenomenal agility of their cars. With pulses quickened, participants steer through the course, learning how to better handle the car with every lap. Most importantly, participants experience the incredible performance that has made BMW’s roundel so famous and revered the world over.

BMW Canada’s Innovation Drive Puts You Behind the Wheel

Suddenly it all comes together, “my car doesn’t feel like this when I emergency brake – it usually wobbles back and forth.” To this participant, 50:50 weight distribution now means something – they’ve experienced its benefits first hand.

Gleeful drivers dice through cones, brake hard for corners, and feel the unrivaled surge of BMW Power as they accelerate down straights. Watching from the sidelines, someone concludes, “I think he’s going to buy that car; he’s really driving it!”

BMW Canada’s Innovation Drive Puts You Behind the Wheel

Upon concluding the course, one instructor remarked how he, “loves to watch people jump out of their BMW with an ear-to-ear smile.” From what I observed, this is no rare sight.

Upon discovering the real value of what lies beneath the skin, a new appreciation for BMW’s lineup is born. Perhaps a check will follow.

If you are contemplating the purchase of a new car, we strongly encourage you to attend a similar event in your area. You’ll never look at a test drive the same way.

BMW Canada’s Innovation Drive Puts You Behind the Wheel

  • Mark

    Great write up, but just to be clear…

    I attended this event in Montreal last month. I was excited to “drive 5 cars in 2.5 hours” as advertised, and left my morning open to do so.

    We began by spending about 30 minutes listening to Pierre and some other guy talk about the new 5er GT and the X6 ActiveHybrid.

    From there, we set off to drive the new 5′s on a short course that consisted of a tight slalom, hard brake, 2 90-degree turns (at slow speed), acceleration, and a hard brake and avoid. We got 3 runs total for two people (even though we were supposed to see the difference between the different damper settings on different runs) and this activity lasted less than 30 minutes.

    We then proceeded to the 135i DCT/335d/335i testing grounds, a course consisting of the following: full acceleration to approximately 100km/h, full braking to a complete stop, shoestring (wide) slalom. We got 1 run in each car, and this lasted less than an hour.

    We also did some marketing surveys (before and) after the event.

    All in all, I was happy to drive some new BMW’s, but had I known that the “Innovation Drive” would be this short I wouldn’t have signed up in the first place. We hardly got a feel for the cars having only 1 short run in each. This seemed more like a sales/marketing event than anything else. Disappointing for a BMW enthusiast.

    • Shawn

      Mark,

      Thanks for your comment. I believe the root cause of your disappointment may lie in the fact that you are a knowledgeable BMW enthusiast. Of course, that’s a great thing – but by far the majority of participants know very little about cars or driving in general. They are your “average consumer” and this is their chance to experience what for them is the drive of a lifetime. As highlighted in the article, it’s otherwise difficult to help the average consumer understand the benefits of paying a premium to drive a high performance car. BMW has been very successful with this approach.

      For enthusiastic and passionate drivers who want to push a car to its limits, a track day is in order. You may be interested in BMW’s advanced driver training program, or if you’d prefer to learn with your own car, you could join BMW Club Canada for regular track events. You can read about my experience with BMW Club Canada in the following article:

      http://www.bmwblog.com/2010/06/06/bmwblog-joins-bmw-club-canada-driving-is-believing/

      Hope you find that helpful!

      • http://www.tashodi.ca Jon

        I was at the event in Toronto. Yes, for car enthusiast who already know everything about BMWs the info sessions are kind of pointless (except to show off you knowledge when they ask questions).
        Still, it was fun to test out the new 5 Series. I drove the loaded 550i twice. The side cameras, heads up display, and night vision were pretty fun to play with.
        I then drove the 135i DCT with the M-Sport package, which sounded wicked taking off and shifting up.
        Also drove the 335ci and 335d.

        All in all it was fun, but the small courses left me wanting more. I actually enjoyed last year’s event at Downsview, where they had competitors models to also compare (Audi, Lexus, Mercedes) and they had a much longer course which was more fun.

        The main thing most of the people missed on both events what they weren’t fully applying the brakes and were just putzing around. The instructors said I was the only one to do it right.

      • Mark

        Hey Shawn,

        I completely understand and agree with what you’re saying. My brother was with me at the event, and he had a blast since he’s never driven a BMW before (or any other performance car).

        My issue wasn’t really with the info sessions, as I did enjoy seeing the two new models. My problem is with the lack of real driving time. 30 seconds per car in 5 cars amounts to less than 3 minutes of driving in a 90-minute event (which was supposed to be a 2.5-hour event!). I drove 25 minutes each way to get there and kept my schedule clear. So really I feel as though my time was wasted more than anything else.

        To me, an event like this should provide the opportunity to do something you can’t at a regular test drive, and this one just didn’t offer that kind of experience (whether I’m a BMW enthusiast or not). If I went to a Ferrari event and was allowed to drive 30 seconds in each car, I would be saying the same thing: fun but didn’t really get to drive, and isn’t that the point?

        FYI, I’m signed up for a couple of track days with the BMW Club of Quebec. So I’m looking forward to pushing my car to its limits :D

  • bmw fan

    BMW Canada is trying hard to gain more market share, but its not getting a lot of help from BMW; BMW cars here get less options than in the USA and are more expensive. BMW Canada does not work with buyers to special order for them, rather they go by the book and only follow the packaging schemes for their cars…BMW Canada needs to mirror what BMW USA does and way more buyers will be knocking on their doors.

    • http://www.bmwblog.com Horatiu B.

      And this where we come to help BMW Canada as much as we can by promoting some of these events, and others of course.

  • Joe

    BMW has been all over the place recently. First the innovation drive event and then yesterday at a golf tournament I attended. They have been doing more and more.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=898615346 Rad Dockery

    I was at the same innovation drive event as well. I think they spent too much time talking about the X6. Most Canadians will never own one.

    Wish we were able to throw the 5 series around more aggressively.

    Overall, a 8 out of 10

  • http://marketingactuary.com Promod Sharma | @mActuary

    Great photos!

    I thought I was the only one disappointed with the very short driving times. It doesn’t matter when you’re a BMW enthusiast or not, you want to drive a car for more than one (short) lap. In Toronto, the 5-series sat unused while we waited in line to drive the other cars. That was disappointing.

    Overall, the event was enjoyable but far from the previous events at Downsview where we also drove competitors’ cars. I blogged in more detail at http://bit.ly/9d7ouO.

  • Pingback: Bmw Canada Help | BMW Photos Blog

  • Annette Wong

    Hi Shawn,

    This event sounds awesome! Many of the statements you made in this article are true, especially “put the consumer behind the wheel of a high performance car, in a high performance setting. I have to agree, a test drive doesn’t give you the same experience, where you are able to apply full acceleration and full braking to push the vehicle to it’s maximum capacity. Do you happen to know if this event will be happening in 2011?

    Also, I would like to feature this article on our automotive community http://www.atomicreach.com/microsite/bumpertalk. Would you be interested in having your articles be included?

    If this is of interest to you, please feel free to send me an email at annettewong@atomicreach.com.

    Cheers,
    Annette

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