Car companies aiming to connect with the consumer
The easiest part of the car business is the technology.
It is merely science, so you can either figure it out, or buy it from the industry’s very sophisticated supplier base.
That’s why new car companies can crop up fairly quickly. Over the past five decades, we’ve seen it happen in Japan, Korea, and in the coming years, China.
Things like styling, fit and finish, colour matching, fine-tuning that technology in areas like suspension development, throttle response — these come closer to art, and are much harder to attain, because true artists are always very thin on the ground.
But by far the toughest part is building the brand, getting the name out there, so it means something over and above the mere mechanics of the thing.
Advertising is a big part of it. If “Somewhere west of Laramie” means nothing to you, Google it. That ad for the Jordan Playboy in 1923 might not have been the first ad to stress ‘lifestyle’ over ‘mechanics,’ but it is doubtless the most famous.
Motorsport has also traditionally played a role. “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” still resonates with many manufacturers.
Competition wins don’t just sell cars. Sir John Egan, who led Jaguar through one of its seemingly decennial resurrections, noted that when Jaguar won at Le Mans, the mechanics in the pits wore the same coveralls as the assemblers in the factories, and to Sir John, that morale boost was as valuable as any additional sales they might have achieved.
Car companies, especially high-end ones, are always looking for new ways to connect with their customers and prospects. They understand that people don’t have to spend six figures (none of them to the right of the decimal point) just to get somewhere reliably, safely, in comfort, even in luxury.
They need to be prepared to spend a lot, just to be associated with the brand.
Irregularly over the next couple of months, we’ll be outlining several programs which aim to do just that. If you are a customer of one of the brands we will be talking about, or if you might like to become one, consider these programs as tasting menus, a chance to get wee look-in before paying out those big bucks.
Even if you don’t become a customer, you’ll very likely have a wonderful time, at a reasonable cost.
Remember that he who dies with the most toys wins …
Every time I drive past a golf course, I think — geez, if they would just widen those cart paths. The sand traps are already there as run-off areas, and we could have race tracks all over the place.
And that sort of driving is way more fun than hitting a stupid little ball.
That isn’t actually how Porsche chose the location for its third Experience Center (after Leipzig, Germany, and Atlanta, Ga., with a fourth due to open in Shanghai later this year).
But the 53-acre chunk of dirt in Carson City, just south of Los Angeles, was indeed formerly a par-three golf course called Dominguez Hills, which had fallen on hard times.
Porsche executives knew their second U.S. centre had to be in Southern California. It is not only one of Porsche’s biggest markets (if treated as a ‘country,’ California would be No. 5 in total Porsche sales); it is also where Porsche really got started in North America with the 356 back in the 1950s.
It cost $2,995. No heater. No tachometer. Don’t you just wish …
The executives were flying over the area looking for prospective sites and spotted this one.
Near the intersection of Interstates 405 and 110, about 22 kilometres south of Los Angeles International Airport, it could hardly be better located, within about an hour’s drive of some 50 million people, many of whom are either Porsche owners or wannabes.
The dirt required massive ‘environmental mediation’ — the polite phrase for ‘decontamination’ — in order to meet the very stringent California standards for such construction.
Detlev von Platen, board member for sales and marketing for Porsche Cars North America, said it now contains “the cleanest landfill you will ever find!”
Tradition has always been important to Porsche, and they respect others’ traditions too.
One of the symbols of Dominguez Hills was a statue of a golfer near the entrance to the course.
This, in fact, was originally one of a series of giant fibreglass statues collectively known as “Muffler Men” which were used as advertising symbols back in the 1960s, not just for Muffler Man shops but for various other businesses such as restaurants and gas stations.
These are considered sort of a national landmark, although they are not officially ‘protected.’ Dominguez Hills dressed its “Muffler Man” up as a golfer; he has now been re-dressed as a race car driver.
The brand-spanking-new buildings accommodate classrooms for driver training, meeting rooms, a driver fitness centre, driving simulators, a restaurant and café, and service bays where road cars and race cars, both modern and historic, can be fettled.
It is also the new home of Porsche Motorsports North America, formerly in a small garage in Santa Ana, which provides support for Porsche’s customer-owned racing cars.
The Experience Center, located as it is near Wally World, describes itself on its website as “A theme park for adults. With no lines. And you control the rides.”
Sounds good to me.
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A series of driving venues, including a handling track, an acceleration straight ending in a replica of the famed ‘Karussell’ corner of Germany’s Nurburgring Nordschleife race track, skid pads with low-friction surfaces so you can practice your drifting, and a wet surface with a so-called ‘kick plate,’ designed to toss the car into a slide so you can practice correcting the same, offer a wide variety of driving experiences.
There is even an off-road course for exploring the capabilities of the Macan and Cayenne.
I have always wondered what company founder Ferdinand Porsche, whose dream was to build a “small, lightweight sports car that uses energy efficiently,” would think about his name appearing on a 3,000-kilogram truck with a turbocharged V8 engine.
He’d probably turn in his grave if he could figure out what to turn it in for …
Still, Cayenne is Porsche’s biggest seller, and apparently makes the profit that allows them to keep building those lovely sports cars, so I guess we all just have to swallow hard and move on …
You can visit the centre, tour the race shop, scope out the gift shop which contains items which apparently aren’t available anywhere else but at the centres, grab a coffee, have a meal, play on the simulators.
But the main deal is the driving experiences.
You can sign up for as many 90-minute sessions as you can pack into your day (or your budget), and enjoy expert one-on-one instruction from Porsche’s roster of top-quality race driver/instructors.
You’ll learn more about the capabilities of the various models, and about your own level of talent. That’s where the instructors come in …
Prices (all in U.S. dollars) range from $385 for the Boxster, Cayman or Macan S, to $850 for the 911 Turbo.
Some ‘comparison’ sessions are also on offer. Mid- versus rear-engine (Boxster/Cayman vs. 911), and rear-wheel drive versus four-wheel drive, each $625.
The ultimate comparison would be 911 Turbo S versus GT3 ($950).
Not cheap. But a chance for the average Joe or Jane to try out a 911 Turbo against a GT3 on a private track with expert instruction? Not bad.
One caveat — the U.S. is the Land of the Lawyer. This again from the website:
“Each participant has a liability of $10,000/per occurrence for damage to property and/or vehicles. We offer an opportunity to reduce your deductible from $10,000 to $2,000 by purchasing the damage waiver for $50/per driving experience.”
So gauge your enthusiasm appropriately.
The centre is also available for corporate meetings with full catering facilities.
The centre in Atlanta attracts about 42,000 visitors a year, split about equally between corporate groups, Porsche owners and Porsche prospects.
They expect a similar split in Carson, but are looking for more like 50,000 guests a year, given the demographics of Southern California.
So if you find yourself with a day or two to kill in Sunny CA and you’ve had your fill of Space Mountain, not to mention the four-hour wait to get on the ride, you might want to give the Porsche Experience Center a look.
More deets available here: Porsche Experience Center Los Angeles