Field of Dreams for Buick-GMC dealers

MILFORD, Mich. -- I can think of worse opening lines for a new-car salesman than this one: “When I was test-driving this car up at the GM Proving Grounds in Milford …”

After this week, almost 1,400 dealers and salespeople from Buick-GMC stores around the country will be able to drop that line on customers.

General Motors is bringing retail folks through Milford over four days this week. Proving Ground managers are shuffling test drives of camouflaged engineering mules to make way for dealers tooling around the miles of twisting track.

They’re getting an early spin in the new Buick Verano compact, due out late this year. A professional driver will hurtle each through a hairpin course in the Regal GS, a halo car being launched this fall that puts down 0-to-60 in a very un-Buick-like 6.7 seconds.

“This is a chance to inject B-G adrenalin into the entire network at one time,” says Buick-GMC Dealer Council Co-Chairman Mike Bowsher, who emerged white-faced and weak-kneed from the backseat after his GS spin.

“This is like going to Mecca for us,” he says.

It’s common for the factory to bring in a handful of dealer-council types to drive a few upcoming products. But the mass ride-and-drive is a rare display of factory-dealer chumminess.

There’s a point to it. If Buick wants to be taken seriously as a Lexus and Acura competitor, its store experience has to measure up. Product knowledge is a big piece of that.

In between drives, dealers and salespeople sat in on product dives with Buick engineers and product trainers.

GM mobilized its 200-person U.S. field staff to coordinate logistics. The dealers picked up the tab to fly their people in and put them up.

About 1,000 of the dealers and salespeople were expected to stick around for a tour of GM’s Lansing Delta assembly plant, where the Buick Enclave is assembled.

Buick-GMC put on a similar program last year and heard positive chatter from its dealers for months. Attendance doubled this year.

“We hope that they walk out of here with a new focus on customer satisfaction and retention,” Buick-GMC sales chief Brian Sweeney says.

“It’s obviously geared around sales growth.”

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