Automakers are taking a new approach to selling cars: gourmet restaurants, driving track

Morgan Korn/ABC News

(New York) — Auto shows were once a major event for automakers — a way to let interested buyers see, sit down, handle and learn about the latest models. With many companies pulling out of shows due to exorbitant fees and COVID pandemic cancellation offers around the world, automakers are taking a new approach to winning over customers: luxury cuisine and experience centers.

Take, for example, the Korean luxury brand Genesis. Consumers attending the New York International Auto Show at the Javits Center in Manhattan will find the sleek and sporty GV70, the critically acclaimed Genesis SUV that went on sale last year, nowhere in the cave. But just a short drive away is the Genesis House, an immersive “haven” in the meatpacking district that gives consumers a taste of what to expect from the brand. On the first floor are the company’s latest cars as well as concept designs and samples of colors and materials.

The 46,000-square-foot space, which officially opened in November, functions as part gallery and part art gallery. vibe? “Excellent Korean”, according to the automaker.

On the second level is Onjium, a Michelin-starred restaurant and cultural institute from Seoul, serving authentic and upscale Korean dishes for gourmets while the Tea Pavilion, a “balcony-like living room,” serves Korean tea and cake with panoramic views of the Hudson River and the High Line.

“The way to anyone’s heart is through their stomachs, so it makes sense,” Tony Quiroga, editor-in-chief of Car and Driver, told ABC News of Genesis House. A memorable meal can “rise up” the brand, he said, and automakers crave excellence and build loyalty.

Japanese automaker Lexus has won over car and food aficionados with its Intersect by Lexus, a culinary experience featuring world-recognized chefs and rotating menus. The Lexus connection was subtle; A wall decal of white painted auto parts or Lexus spindle grille in a bamboo grille that blends seamlessly with the architecture. Lexus decided to close the Meatpacking restaurant in January.

“From the beginning our goal has been to build a space designed for people to experience the spirit of the Lexus lifestyle without getting behind the wheel,” according to a press release announcing the news. “INTERSECT was intent on promoting the Lexus brand in an impactful and meaningful way, and it did just that. We are proud of what we have accomplished, and consider InterSECT BY LEXUS- NYC a great success. The Lexus brand will continue to develop creative and innovative lifestyle experiences for an amazing experience, and we look forward to sharing This is with customers for years to come.”

Ed Kim, president and chief analyst at AutoPacific, said visitors to the Genesis House can learn about cultural influences on the car’s designs.

“Many brands are looking for creative ways to communicate the brand’s message to consumers,” he told ABC News.

BMW, Lotus, Ford and Porsche have centers of expertise spread across the US, allowing enthusiasts to pay the money to test drive the hottest models on the track — and possibly leave with one, too.

“It happens all the time — people buy a BMW after the program is over,” Dan Gubitusa, director of BMW Performance Centers, told ABC News. “We direct them to a dealer closer to where they live.”

BMW operates two performance driving schools: Spartanburg, South Carolina, the site opened in 1999 followed by Thermal Track, California, in 2015. In August, BMW will open its satellite program – the BMW M Track Series – at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“We definitely show people the brand. That is the goal of these schools,” Gubitosa said.

About 23,000 people attend BMW driving schools each year and the programs range from half-day to full-day with professional race car drivers. Prices start at $299 for two hours and go up to $3,995 for two days at M School.

“The high-performance cars are here. The most popular BMW models – the X3 and X5 – are also here. We also have an off-road course. You can test just about anything,” said Gubitusa.

Porsche has nine experience centers globally, with locations in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Shanghai, Germany, Italy and Tokyo. 10th place for Porsche experience [PEC] It will welcome visitors in 2024 in Toronto.

“You don’t have to be an owner to come in and drive or walk around the show,” Michelle Rainey, director of the Atlanta Porsche Experience Center, told ABC News. “We want to be friendly with all people and always make sure we have the latest and greatest cars, so they represent what our Porsche dealers have.”

More than 550,000 people have signed up for driving programs at the Experience Driving Centers in Atlanta and Los Angeles since 2015, according to a Porsche spokesperson. The major expansion of the Atlanta Trail, which debuted in early 2023, includes a 1.3-mile handling circuit inspired by the Corkscrew in Laguna Seca, the Carousel from the Nurburgring-Nordschleife Trail in Germany and the Tail of the Dragon in the Smoky Mountains. There will also be a 197-foot low-friction wet asphalt circuit and an ice hill, with a wet and textured surface along with ramp and downhill to show traction control, according to Porsche. Current programs start at $365 for 90 minutes, and coveted Porsche sports cars like the 911 GT3, Taycan Turbo S and Cayman GT4 are available to drive.

“We teach you all about cars,” said Rainey. “We’re always working on developing new programs that attract new audiences.”

Tyson Gomini, vice president of data and analytics at JD Power, noted that these centers of expertise primarily serve to create brand ambassadors for automakers.

“If you buy a BMW and go to a performance driving school, you’re going to be more excited about the brand. It’s about being taught your principles and getting you into the brand,” he told ABC News.

Kim added, “For a brand like BMW or Porsche, performance is the core and foundation of what it’s about. It makes sense to do things like experiences.”

Quiroga, of Car and Driver, continues to see car shows as the perfect way to reach the largest audience of potential buyers. NYIAS attracts an average of at least 628,000 American families each year, according to one report.

“Attending auto shows is very expensive for manufacturers…but it is still important for consumers,” he said. “It’s still a really easy place to get excited and see a lot of cars without seller pressure. Not showing up will hurt the automakers in the end.”

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