Going beyond the showroom for a test drive

Within a span of one month, I attended three driving experiences – by BMW M, Bentley and Audi. These events allow customers to try their hand at the cars outside of the usual showroom test drive.

With makeshift tracks and professional driving instructors as guides, they provide the opportunity for participants to try the cars in various situations, other than just drive them around the showroom.

The Changi Exhibition Centre, home of the airshow grounds, is a popular place for such driving events due to the vast space it has. Both the BMW M Power Drive Experience and the Bentley Continental GT Speed Experience were held there one week after another at the end of November. Participants get to learn and practise driving techniques such as high speed braking zones, high speed corners, emergency lane changes and slalom.

Lito German, marketing director of BMW Asia who organised the BMW M Power Drive Experience said, “One of the best ways to understand and enjoy a BMW vehicle is quite simply to get behind the wheel and drive. In this regard, we wanted to showcase the amazing prowess of our newest range of BMW M sports cars in a fun, relaxed yet safe environment.”

Launching the new BMW M Performance automobile range – the cars that are positioned between the standard BMW models and the high performance BMW M models – the event was well-received by customers and slots were fully booked.

Attended by more than 360 participants in four days, over 20 orders were made during the event for both BMW M and BMW M Performance Automobiles vehicles. This translated to nearly 15 per cent of the annual volume for BMW M in Singapore.

On a regional basis, BMW Asia collaborates with colleagues in neighbouring countries like Malaysia to hold events such as the BMW M Track Experience Asia, which marked the 40th anniversary of the BMW M brand. Authorised distributor for BMW, Performance Motors Limited, also conducts BMW Driver Training programmes for customers on a regular basis at the nearby Johor Circuit.

The Bentley Continental GT Speed Experience was a regional launch as well as driving experience for the new Continental GT models. Bentley’s product line has expanded in recent years, hence Wearnes Automotive, authorised distributor for Bentley in Singapore, wanted to create an opportunity for customers to experience the breadth of choice Bentley offers in a safe and controlled environment under the guidance of Bentley’s driving instructors.

With a tailored driving programme, customers got to experience the dynamic capabilities of the Bentley cars and push the GT V8 as well as the GT Speed to the limit under the watchful eyes of the instructors.

Andre Roy, chief executive officer of Wearnes Automotive, said, “This the first time Bentley has organised a drive event of such scale regionally. This is in line with our product experience. During the event, we received very positive feedback from participants on Bentley."

Given that, Roy said they are certainly gearing up for more drive-related events in the future.

While Audi also often holds driving events with their cars at Changi Exhibition Centre for new car launches or customer test drive experiences, they have a major annual event at Sepang International Circuit – the Audi Driving Experience.

This is the fourth time that Audi is holding this event, since 2009. Always held at Sepang, the cars each year are different, depending on what new models that Audi launched that year. Flying in cars and instructors from Germany, the 2012 Audi Driving Experience had more than 200 participants from the region.

The main highlight of the event this time was the S6, S7 Sportback and S8 models and the participation fee was S$1,200 (inclusive of a return flight ticket). I remember it was more costly at previous editions when there was the range-topping R8 as one of the cars to drive.

“The Audi Driving Experience is not a customer test drive in the sense that we do not have staff on-site that actively tries to ‘sell’ the cars. Instead, it represents a spectrum of activities designed to delight our customers and give them intimate experiences with our cars. We also use the opportunity for our guests to try out our latest and most exciting models at these events while offering an exclusive inside look into Audi’s performance, precision and innovation,” said Jeff Mannering, managing director of Audi Singapore.

Driving on an actual track definitely gives us the opportunity to push the car to different limits from that of the makeshift courses at Changi Exhibition Centre. Hopefully when there is a racing track nearer to Singapore, more car brands will look to offer driving events on a more frequent basis.

Across the globes in other parts of the world, car manufacturers have various types of driving experiences, even conducting them in snow and on ice. Such events create opportunities for customers to understand their cars and the limits better, offering them the platform to drive their cars in different types of situations.

Passionate about cars and motorsports, Cheryl Tay is a familiar face in prominent local, regional as well as international automotive titles. More of her at www.cheryl-tay.com.

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