Retail Front

This Is a Test, This Is Only a Test


Car dealership test drives are fine, but not everybody wants one.

Former dealer Harry Douglas recalls a “customer” going on a test drive and stopping at a bank. The guy told the salesperson he had to run inside for a sec.

What he failed to mention was that he planned to rob the place. The dealership demo vehicle suddenly became a getaway car. The cops caught the culprit. After a long waiting period, Douglas eventually got his car back.

“The FBI dusted it for prints, and white powder was all over the interior,” he told me.

Most dealership test drives don’t result in crimes. And most dealers consider a test drive an important part of the selling process. It is the step where customers pretty much decide if this is the vehicle.

Nevertheless, demo drives are not necessarily essential. Some could-be buyers can use their imaginations and fall for a vehicle. Like a motorcycle.

Kawasaki motorcycle stores don’t offer test drives. It’s too risky, says Chris Brull, the youth-oriented brand’s vice president-marketing.

“Who is going to give a 210-hp bike to an 18-year-old kid to ride off the lot on?” he says at a recent Thought Leadership Summit. “You just can’t do it.”

He adds: “I won’t even talk about FICO scores.”

Kawasaki tries to get customer juices flowing in other ways, such as with fast-paced social-media videos showing motorcycles in action.

I’m not suggesting car dealers wave off test-drive requests and instead direct customers to YouTube videos showing the thrills that come with that compact CUV they’re considering.

But dealers can use videos to show certain things, such as safety features that are highly important but don’t stand out during a test drive unless something goes really wrong. Think collision course.

No, test drives should not include airbag deployments for demonstration purposes.

Nor is it a grand idea to urge customers behind the wheel of a demo car to take aim at another vehicle in order to feel the effects of automatic emergency braking.

Fact is, a car so equipped would indeed stop on its own in such a jam. But that occurring on a test drive might freak people out, including the customer-driver, the other driver and any police officers within eyeshot.

Here’s what doesn’t make for scintillating customer interaction: Sitting in the showroom and going down the list of safety items. (“Not only that, it has a forward-collision avoidance system.”) A Monroney can tell you that. A show-and-tell video would better get the point across.

Some futurist types predict dealerships someday will house test-drive simulators. They’d let customers go for a spin without leaving the store. Sounds sketchy, but think of the gasoline you’d save.

Not everyone wants an obligatory test drive. In a DME Automotive survey of 2,000 consumers, 320 said they skipped it for whatever reason.

I recently bought a car. The salesman asked if I wanted to try it out. I declined for a few reasons.

First, I was familiar with the car. (We at WardsAuto test drive lots of them.) Second, I trusted the dealership not to sell me a loser cruiser. Third, as I told the salesman: “If there is a problem, you’ll be the first to know.”

By the way, it runs great.

Discuss this Blog Entry 1

on Nov 14, 2015

Test drives sell cars plain and simple. I can understand why not at a cycle dealer, but on a car lot the goal needs to be 100% test drive. It provides an emotional connection to the car, and solidifies to the customer that this is the correct car.

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What's Retail Front?

Blogs about automotive retailing, commenting on news impacting the business of selling vehicles.


Steve Finlay

Steve Finlay is the editor of WardsAuto Dealer Business magazine and a senior editor for His journalism career started 42 years ago as a crime reporter. A Michigan native, he likes...

Jim Ziegler

Jim Ziegler, president of Ziegler Supersystems, is a trainer, commentator and public speaker on dealership issues.
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