More than just a spin around the block

We explore how manufacturers and dealers are having to evolve the test drive in order to boost sales

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Lasting around twenty minutes and conducted on a prescribed route, the traditional test drive enables the prospective customer to find out if this is the car for them but also an opportunity for the sales person to try and close a deal. Given that a new car is generally the second most expensive consumer purchase, after a home, a short time behind the wheel to become familiar with today’s hi-tech vehicles often puts both customer and sales person under pressure.

Karl Davis, managing director of automotive consultancy Coachworks Consulting, said that dealers need to change their attitudes towards test drives, which are often viewed as tying up too much of their sales executives’ time. This is in light of new research by What Car? that found that the average buyer is planning to test at least two new cars before making their next purchase. Analysis of 8,500 survey responses found that almost a fifth were expecting to drive more than five before deciding. 45% of readers also revealed that they intended to test more cars than they did last time they purchased.

“The test drive is an increasingly important part of the sales process and with buyers expected to test more cars than before, so it has to be experiential for them,” said Davis.

Sales staff should take time to find out about the customer’s typical usage and factor that into a test route. When you’re expecting a customer to commit a significant amount of money, it’s not good enough to offer a 20-minute spin around the block.

“Dealers should also be offering customers a good mix of roads on a route, to include town and country driving. If the customer does a lot of motorway driving then this, or a dual carriageway, should be included as well.”

Davis said the best dealers are achieving higher conversion rates from test drives because they plan routes in accordance with customer needs and are prepared to invest the time.

Recognising the importance of the test drive in the buying decision, a number of manufacturers have taken a new approach by offering extended test drives. Brands such as BMW, Citroën and Lexus, for example, are now providing a 24-hour test drive facility, so that a potential customer can really discover more about a specific model and answer questions such as: Does the family like it? Is the boot big enough? How economical is it in real-world driving situations?

Ford, Mercedes and Mini have even gone further by offering 48-hour test drives, whilst some retailers are now offering extended test drives from home or office, where a vehicle is delivered for the customer to evaluate at their leisure. The theory is that by removing the sales environment and enabling customers to get more familiar with how the car drives and how practical it is, a longer test drive provides the opportunity for hopeful buyers to make a more informed decision.

Indeed, a survey of 200 used car buyers revealed half would feel more positively about a dealer if they were offered an extended or unaccompanied test drive. Most said they would use the opportunity to show the car to friends and family to gauge their opinion with the vast majority (89%) admitting that a positive response would probably result in a sale.

Embracing technology in order to create more test drive opportunities is also something manufacturers are rolling out. Mazda, for instance, launched a virtual reality test drive experience this summer at five major shopping centres around the UK, in partnership with a local franchised dealer. As part of its ‘MyWay’ test drive concept, Mazda gave customers the chance to experience a fully immersive virtual reality test drive of either its MX-5 or CX-5 model, equipped with VR goggles.

Ultimately, ensuring that every stage of the sales process is tailored to a customer, has shown to have a major positive influence in getting the deal done, not least because the focus is on enabling the customer to make the most informed decision.

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