The Automotive Discovery Process Needs Innovation

I live in the suburbs so having a car is part of my daily life.  I sometimes drive the car to the train station or drive it into Manhattan, depending on what the schedule of the day and evening is.

Years ago, I was in Saint Martin with my wife and we rented an SUV.  When the rental agency pulled the car around, it was a Hyundai and I got a bit nervous.  I’d not heard much positive around Hyundai’s but after a week on the island, I couldn’t speak more highly of the specific Hyundai we rented.  It handled the off road segments great and all around was a solid SUV.  I’d consider purchasing or leasing it.

About two weeks ago, I was on a West Coast business trip and thru Hertz, rented a car that I would probably never go and purchase, but had a good experience with it.  I realized that the only way I really get exposed to automobiles to drive is through renting cars on business trips and vacations or my neighbors and friends exposing me to their vehicles.    Seems pretty limited to me.

The card discovery process needs innovation.  The are only a few discovery opportunities for cars: listen to friends talk, buy magazines or visit sites like Edmunds, go to trade shows, or to visit many car dealerships.  When visiting a car dealership, you can schedule a test drive but those last 15 minutes and generally are setup to be a positive experience.

I cannot believe there are not more chances to drive different cars and for a longer period of time.  Few if any dealerships are promoting the all-day or weekend test drive which you’d think would be a no brainer to the serious potential car leasor/buyer.  Why doesn’t an automotive brand put drive centers in major towns so more people can test out the cars in real-life situations?  If driving the car is so great, it makes people want to buy it, then get the car into more hands for trial.  Makes sense to me.  People might even pay for it.

Last winter, I was up in Manchester, VT and due to the thin cover of snow, I didn’t ski, but went to the Land Rover Experience Driving School.  I paid money to go in a Land Rover (and Range Rover) for a morning of off-road driving.  I not only got exposed to the SUV, but learned some skills and maneuvers that could come in handy on future trips to snowy places.  This was a great example of using an experience to drive evangelism.

There needs to be a solution to help people discover the right cars for them and a solution for people to try cars longer than just the 15 minute test drive.  Is anyone doing this right?

  • http://greghills.com greghills

    Zipcar is huge for autodiscovery.

    • http://www.darrenherman.com dherman76

      I agree, however, most people do not think to use Zipcar as a discovery tool. Most people use Zipcar as a utility to get from point a to be, a cooler and hipper rental car. In reality, that’s what it is, even though most rental cars now have the exact same fleet and similar rates.

      • http://greghills.com greghills

        True, Zipcar wouldn’t satisfy the use case you are talking about.

        • http://twitter.com/thinkdavid David Chen

          No one I know has ever bought a new car without test driving it first.  There might be something here for such a service – test drive cars.  This would be a great lead-gen for dealerships.

  • Dave / Buycentives

    As an auto marketing veteran, I can tell you that automakers struggle to get “butts in seats”. Partly because they are constrained by their current marketing paradigm. Partly because they think that’s the dealer’s job. Etc., etc.

    With growing parity in quality, features, fuel economy, etc., within a segment, it’s styling and driving dynamics that can close a sale today.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jtareen Bahrooz Khan Tareen

    you wrote “Why doesn’t an automotive brand put drive centers in major towns so more people can test out the cars in real-life situations?  If driving the car is so great, it makes people want to buy it, then get the car into more hands for trial.  Makes sense to me.  People might even pay for it.”

    Because most states have laws on the books that prevent OEM car companies from engaging the customer directly in any shape or form that may be construed as part of the actual sales process. I don’t agree with it but that is the way it is and dealers themselves do not have the resources built into their business models to arrange for test drives without trying to sell customers cars or treating them like leads to follow up on. The system is broken and needs to be fixed, but unfortunately I do not see it being fixed by the current participants. The case in point is Tesla lawsuit file by dealers that it’s mall showrooms constitute a dealerships even though Tesla is not actually selling any cars out any of its current showrooms. By the way the problem is not just relegated to test drives but also to stages that come early in the purchasing life cycle such as consideration and early evaluation. What is the solution? Can social media type platforms be used to mitigate this pain point for both the dealers and the consumers? I think so, if done right. Thanks for your blog.