Performance driving is the best advertisement a car company can get. We can see cars carving up canyon roads with supermodels in them on television all day long, but it’s just white noise. Each and every car company has their marketing ploys for tv, online and print advertisement. But the best way to impress customers is to put them in the car and show them what it can do. That’s why so many automakers are doing exactly that.
BMW’s Performance Driving Center in Spartanburg, South Carolina, has been around for a few years now. This facility houses a 1.7 mile race track, a dirt course for SUVs and trained instructors to help potential customers through both. The idea behind this facility is to get potential customers more comfortable with BMW products and give them a positive association with the brand. If people can see what BMWs can really do, it’s likely that they will buy Bavarian.
At the Performance Driving Center, people can really get a feel for what many BMW products are made of. “This is a huge part of our marketing plan,” said Daniel Gubitosa, Director of BMW’s Performance Driving Center. “Getting people into the cars and letting them drive is really important. Everybody walks away with a new skill. We want people to enjoy driving and experience the brand.” And he’s right, if customers actually get to drive the cars the way they’re designed to be driven and have fun doing so, it’s likely they will stick with BMW.
But the Bavarians aren’t the only ones who are doing it. In fact, every major premium German automaker is doing it as well. Porsche has its own version of this, called the Porsche Experience Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia. There, potential customers and buyers can test their skills in anything from a Cayman to a 911 GT3 on the facility’s 1.6 mile track. It’s become an incredibly popular place for potential buyers and Porsche fans to visit. Currently, Porsche gets 10,000 visitors a year and they Stuttgart-based brand expects it to grow to 12,000 soon. “The driving program is where the rubber meets the road,” said Porsche marketing vp Andre Oosthuizen. “You’ll get an education, but we’ll put a smile on your face. It’s an experience second to none.”
Mercedes-AMG has one of its own as well, the AMG Driving Academy. This program started in Germany but has also expanded to the US. There are four race tracks across the country where people can be instructed through five different levels of driving. Audi has its own as well, the Audi Sportscar Experience (noticing a naming trend, here?) at Sonoma Raceway in California.
This may all seem like bologna, but it genuinely works. While there aren’t specific numbers from any company, they all claim that these driving experience programs actually do translate into sales. “Maybe you’re on the fence and don’t know what BMW is all about,” says Gubitosa. “Once you get here, you may change your mind.” What’s nice is that they don’t try and sell anything to the customers at these experiences. It isn’t a hard sell. Instead, they instructors just take people out in performance cars and show them what they can do. It’s more of a demonstration than a presentation.
These performance driving experiences must be working because all premium German automakers are doing it. None of them are going to invest the millions of dollars that it costs to build and develop these things if they aren’t going to pay off in the long run. Customer experiences can lead to positive association and that can lead to sales. But not only just a one-time sale, these driving experiences can turn people into customers for life. That’s why they do it, to turn you into a BMW person or Porsche person or Audi person. It’s like heroin, just one try and you’re hooked for life. At least that’s the idea. With cars, though, not heroin, that’s bad.