Official driving experiences remain essential for brands



The resumption of manufacturer-backed driving experiences is high on the to-do lists of most brands offering them in Australia, as COVID-19 restrictions affect the most populous eastern states.

The extended closures of Sydney and Melbourne, along with the gradual easing of restrictions in Queensland, put an immediate end to activities such as track days, side adventures and 4×4 expeditions.

Strict border closures put in place by other states and territories made it impossible or impossible for such events to take place due to the low number of participants caused by the inability of interstate or international participants to travel.

There are some glimmers of hope on the horizon, however, with several brands reopening bookings for their respective events while others have expressed their eagerness to resume their hosting duties.

Isuzu Ute Australia (IUA), for example, runs guided 4×4 training days for its I-Venture Club members across the country, with the main focus of the events being to build customer confidence while behind the wheel by off-road or towing.

The outbreak of COVID-19 forced the brand to drop most of its events last year, although the recent easing of restrictions has seen interest in rescheduled events skyrocket, with all four courses coming to Melbourne, Double Island Point and Mount Cotton in Queensland and Stockton Beach in New South Wales are booked months in advance.

IUA’s director of public relations, Mark Harman, said interest in the events has been so strong that the company is looking to host additional events where possible to meet growing demand.

“As our I-Venture Club events are impacted by the continuing effects of the pandemic, customer safety remains our priority and in some cases events have been postponed and canceled,†he said. GoAuto.

“We also have a very flexible cancellation policy to ensure that anyone who feels unsafe or unwell on the day can cancel and receive a full refund or postpone attending a future event.”

Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) Australia is holding similar off-road events through its Land Rover Experience (LRE) series, but the premium brand has yet to resume hosting duties as the COVID situation remains so volatile.

In a statement addressed to GoAutoJLR Public Relations Manager James Scrimshaw said events “have always been an important and popular part of our customer experiences in Australia”.

“LRE events allow our customers and prospects to gain confidence in their driving skills, as well as learn new ones, while having a better understanding of Land Rover’s off-road capabilities over a variety of terrains,†said he declared.

“We look forward to returning Land Rover Experience in the future.”

One manufacturer that hasn’t been forced to give up on its in-house driving experiences is Porsche, which offers arguably the most elaborate and in-depth programs of any of the brands covered here, with over 100 calendar days of track fun. and in motorsport (pre-COVID) when events such as Targa Tours and Ice Experience are included.

Thanks to most of its events in Queensland and South Australia, Porsche Cars Australia (PCA) has been able to avoid completely shutting down its popular Track Experience and plans are already in place to revert to a full schedule in 2022 – though the pandemic allows it.

The biggest obstacle in recent times has been the strict interstate border controls put in place by state and territory rulers, according to PCA public relations manager Chris Jordan.

Rather than abandon the program, Mr Jordan saidGoAutothat PCA was doing “what we can, where we can and when we canâ€, with demand remaining “very strong†throughout the year and even stronger interest expected in 2022.

A similar strategy has been used by the local branch of the BMW Group for its BMW driving experience, with COVID-19 forcing several postponements in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia during from the past 12 to 18 months.

Different state restrictions and exposure rates allowed some events to take place, but nowhere near enough to meet demand according to product manager, market planning and driving experience Brendan Michel.

“The safety of our customers and everyone involved in the BMW Driving Experience is our top priority,†he said. GoAuto.

“We continued to see extremely high demand and now even have a waiting list due to the number of new and rescheduled reservation requests.

“We are working closely with the authorities so that we can resume offering our full services and ensure that the participants’ experience is not compromised in any way.”

Hyundai is another brand that has tried to make the most of the situation without completely canning its still young but hugely popular N Festival, with most of its hurdles related more to programming and border closures than lock.

“We had to postpone last year’s N Festival from November 2020 to January 2021,†said Bill Thomas, general manager of corporate communications for Hyundai Motor Company Australia (HMCA). GoAuto.

“We held the event in Queensland where we have a very good number of N’s and due to COVID restrictions residents of the greater Sydney area were unable to attend… we still had over 100 cars. at the event, and it was a huge success.

“We’re planning to host this year’s event in Victoria, and then we’ll have to see. We intend to move on and give all states their own festivals in the future.

“Smaller regional driving events have shown us that there is a lot of appetite from N owners across Australia, even with COVID rules in place, and we will make sure we have Australia covered. with our track days. â€

Compared to the other experiences mentioned in this article, the N Festival is a free gathering for N owners and fans to come together, enjoy all things Hyundai N and experience the full extent of their car’s performance capabilities via free track sessions and hot laps.

HMCA’s commitment to the event is such that in the last edition it brought in several development prototypes of upcoming models like the i30 Fastback N and the TCR car.

“It’s about focusing on our customers and giving them exciting new ways to enjoy their cars – one free track day each year is the least we can do for owners who have paid large sums for their cars. new Hyundai N cars, â€said Thomas said.

“We like to think we understand the enthusiastic buyer fairly well – we have to demonstrate that understanding through actions.

“This means making sure all owners are aware of these events and have the opportunity to attend.”

Toyota took a different path from Hyundai in creating the Gazoo Racing Club for owners of its Supra and GR Yaris, but the end result is quite similar; free membership offers exclusive on-track and in-car meetings where owners can leave their cars off-leash, as well as perks including access to members-only areas at motorsport events including the ARC Series and TGRA 86.

According to a spokesperson for Toyota Australia, no club events have been held so far in 2021, but plans are well in place to rectify this later this year based on the current COVID-19 situation. .

“Although we have not been able to host live events this year due to COVID-19 restrictions, we continue to build a strong community around the GR brand and demonstrate Toyota’s commitment to build performance cars that are exciting and fun to drive, â€the spokesperson said. .

“Our members also remain engaged through social media and the regular editions of the online magazine GRC Journal, and they continue to benefit from discounts, merchandise and specials.

“We hope to provide in-person activity opportunities later this year, if permitted.”

The authorizations could well make or break the next installment of the Mercedes-AMG Driving Academy sessions with the level 1 “Performance Training” and level 2 “Advanced Training” courses scheduled respectively on October 28 and 29 at Sydney Motorsport Park. .

While the official landing page shows both events sold out – well in advance – it remains to be seen whether they will continue due to the volatile COVID-19 situation in the greater Sydney area and restrictions in constant evolution.

Much like the Porsche track experience, AMG’s Driver Academy offers customers a multi-level program to teach them the ins and outs of performance driving and car control.

According to Mecedes-Benz Cars Australia’s public relations manager, Jerry Stamoulis, the request is “driven by restrictions in place set by local government before or at the time of the event.”

Nonetheless, Mr. Stamoulis said GoAuto“Driving Events are and continue to be an important part†of the engagement of customers and fans of the brand.

A recurring theme raised individually by the brands cited in this article is the patience and understanding of customers when events have been canceled or postponed.

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