Buick Offers Overnight Test Drives

Buick is offering customers the chance to take test-drive vehicles home overnight, a move it calls a long-term brand builder rather than a quick-hit sales promotion.

Buick is encouraging dealers to enroll in the 24-hour test-drive program, which begins this Wednesday. It will support the launch with a national advertising campaign, including TV commercials.

Buick brand chief Duncan Aldred called the offer “a long-term brand promise.” He decided to roll out the promotion nationally based on positive customer feedback from a recent pilot program in the Phoenix area.

“Customers thought it showed that we have a real confidence in our vehicles,” Aldred said in an interview.

While few if any mainstream brands offer 24-hour test-drives today, the concept isn’t new. GM ran a similar promotion across its brands in 2003 and 2004. At one point, GM offered to pay $250 to anyone who test-drove a GM product but ended up purchasing one from a competitor.

The focus then seemed to be on driving sales. In an eight-month period through the end of 2003, the promotion generated more than 500,000 extended test drives and resulted in almost 190,000 sales, then-GM North America President Gary Cowger told Automotive News in early 2004.

Aldred said Buick’s “24 Hours of Happiness” promotion is different. There is no incentive money attached to the test drive. He said it will be evaluated after three months, but he expects it to become a long-term offer.

“Because this is a brand building act, we expect it will build over time rather than instantly driving showroom traffic,” Buick said in a memo to dealers describing the program.

One of the dealers involved in the Phoenix pilot was Henry Brown, chairman of the Buick-GMC National Dealer Council and owner of Henry Brown Buick-GMC in Gilbert, Ariz. He said fewer people than he expected took cars for the night, but the offer made a favorable impression on most customers.

“It’s more of an image builder,” he said. “Some people can’t believe that Buick has the confidence to send them out in a car without a salesperson sitting next to them to tell them how great the car is.”

Brown said that the customers who took advantage of the extended test drives were far more likely to buy the vehicle than a typical test-drive customer.

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