When dealers hear the term "Ride & Drive," they tend to think of their tire supplier hosting an event to show off its hot new product.
The event is usually at some nice locale like Phoenix, Las Vegas or Orlando. Generally, the colder the weather at home, the warmer the event location. And, with luck, the event will be held at some cool track like Sears Point, Road Atlanta or the Nashville Super Speedway.
All the dealer needs to do is get on a plane; the tire company takes care of the rest – ground transportation, welcome reception, gifts, hotel, etc.
For much of one day, the dealer joins other dealers – and often members of the media ®€“ to test drive tires. The tests can be wet or dry, a coned course or a long track, on full tread or 50% worn. Sometimes the tires are tested against competitive models.
There’s usually another dinner, and then the dealer is chauffeured back to the airport the next morning to catch a plane for home.
It all seems so seamless and easy. But there’s so much more to it than that. For the most part, dealers have no idea of how much planning and hard work goes into those prized trips.
"The sheer amount of time and arms and legs involved with putting on one of these events is tremendous," says Dan Newsome, manager of event marketing at Michelin North America. "It consumes a huge amount of time because the details will kill you."
So what’s involved is putting on a Ride & Drive? Well, let’s just say someone doesn’t wake up one morning and decide to hold an event that weekend.
Depending on which tire manufacturer is putting on the event – and it;s intended location ®€“ planning can start anywhere from three months to a year out. Everything is predicated on the type of event and where it’s held.
"Right now, we’re planning our Drive & Learn events a minimum of six months out, if not more," says Phil Pasci, Bridgestone/Firestone executive director of consumer tire brand marketing. "You’re looking at acquiring tires and vehicles, and you need to make sure you have the logistics setup."
"We start anywhere from 90 to 120 days out," Newsome says. "First of all, you have to think through the process, think about the ‘how’ and the ‘why.’
"There’s invitations to be sent out. If you don’t have cars, you have to arrange early for them so there are no problems. There’s the insurance you need, the stuff you need to order, the wheels and tires. And, if you don’t have the ancillary stuff, you’ve got to start collecting it."
After hearing about what needs to be researched, collected and planned for, it’s quickly apparent why these events take so long to create. And it’s not just one plan that has to be created, it’s all the contingency plans and side issues that have to be considered.
And this is why many of the bigger tire companies have separate agencies and/or a dedicated staff whose sole job is to put on these events.
A large part of the planning is lodging and meals. Usually it’s necessary to book between 25 to 40 hotel rooms for days on end. Plus, one or two restaurants that can seat that many people.
"Normally, there’s a pre-event site inspection for hotels, parking lots, tracks, everything," Pasci says. "That takes place nine-to-12 months ahead of the event. Hotels require contracts, so you’ll book space three-to-six months out.
"You’ll go to an event site and star pre-testing, getting an idea of all the logistics that need to be dealt with, so everything runs just fine."
Most tiremakers say it takes at least two trips to the location to check on different aspects of the event. Sometimes the local options won’t work, so the tire company has to make its own arrangements.
Race Track or Parking Lot?
When a tire company has a product they’d like to feature in a Ride & Drive, they have to figure out the best way to show off the tire.
Tire companies have held events at any number of race courses, and in parking lots, on airport runways and even on public roads. Then there are the more exotic places, like the Rubicon trail, Napa Valley, Pikes Peak and even an Olympic speed skating oval.
"The ‘where’ of the event changes, depending on the product being showcased," says a Goodyear spokesman. "We might use our own test tracks, but we may go to another site, like a race track, or a driving school’s facility.. It all depends on what you need."
And what is needed depends completely on the type of tire and what attributes the company wants to show off.
"If we’re demonstrating an ultra-high performance tire, we want our guests to experience some of the true capabilities of the tire," says Goodyear. "That may mean testing in dry and wet conditions, and probably against some other tires – either those of competitors or our own previous generation tires.
"We always want to demonstrate the advancements we’ve made, performance improvements that real drivers can feel."
"With any Ride & Drive, there are clear objectives to be accomplished and that’s your starting point," Newsome says. "These things come in different shapes and sizes, so what you want to accomplish will guide you.
"Most of these are pavement exercises, so you want to look for something with a big patch of asphalt. Something that doesn’t have a lot of pot holes or light poles or curbs. Sometimes, a different type of pavement – such as sealed asphalt ®€“ can make comparisons difficult, so you have to look at that."
Most of the time, finding a location isn’t as big a problem as finding an affordable one. Usually someone owns the location, and that means money has to change hands.
"That’s becoming a lucrative business," Pasci says. "Ten years ago, we’d get parking lots for next to nothing. Now, the owners have found out they’ve got valuable real estate. Sites that used to cost us $1,000 now run $5,000 to $10,000."
Getting the Right Cars
The type of vehicle can also have an impact on the success – or failure ®€“ of a Ride & Drive. A Porsche might be best for an ultra-high performance tire, a SUV for off-road, a BMW for a touring tire.
While tiremakers have tires to spare for events, acquiring the necessary rides requires some help.
Some companies own vehicles, sometimes a rental car company or a new car dealer comes into play. It all depends on what’s needed.
"We’re up front with rental agencies, so they know want we’re doing," says Pasci. "When we do regional events, we have our own vehicles. When we do big introductions, we work with brokers who provide vehicles. Sometimes, we can even get new vehicles from the OEM."
Bridgestone/Firestone owns eight vehicles that are kept for two years and then sold. Pasci says the cars are well taken care of, even with the extreme service they’re put through, with a constant flow of new brake pads and rotors and oil changes every 100 miles.
Likewise, Goodyear also has its own vehicles for use at particular events.
Says Michelin’s Newsome: "We end up leasing cars because we do a bunch of events in a year. While there aren’t many instances where we buy a vehicle outright, there have been times when one of our OE partners will provide us with a vehicle."
Underwriting the Event
And then there’s insurance – and not just for the cars. Nearly everything has to be insured.
"When we design an event, insurance is one of the last things we think about," says Pasci. "We know we need it and, for us, if we have to write a premium check for $50,000 to $75,000, that’s just what you have to do. For a major corporation, it’s just part of the event."
Ride & Drive generally involve vehicles moving at high rates of speed, driven by non-professional drivers on someone else’s property, and sometimes in extreme conditions. It’s not uncommon for someone to lose control and bust up a car.
"If you’re going to do a program, you don’t have a choice, and insurance costs what it costs," Newsome says. "It’s a must. Almost all the ones we do require a minimum of $5 million in coverage. And it’s not cheap."
Along with the major items there are several often overlooked things that go into a good Ride & Drive event.
Here are some other things that tire companies have to plan for:
®€′ Transportation to and from the airports and the event site.
®€′ Other activities, like golf.
®€′ Food, water, shelter and facilities at the event site.
®€′ Notification of local officials and law enforcement. Not to mention on-site security and emergency medical squads.
®€′ On-site vehicle repairs and tire changing.
®€′ Gifts and other goodies.
®€′ Professional drivers to ride with attendees.
Holding a Ride & Drive is more complicated than driving a couple cars. Months of sweat and preparation go into them. So the next time you attend an event, be sure to look around and admire what had to be accomplished just to get you there.