SALT LAKE CITY -- Anyone familiar with the usual vehicle test drive can tell you the route. Four stop signs. Four right turns. Boring.
Mazda North American Operations wants to change that. In heralding its vehicles as more fun to drive than the competition's, Mazda has given license to its dealership sales staff to put the pedal to the metal.
Mazda's field staff has visited each of the company's 700 dealerships to search out local roads that will highlight their vehicles' performance attributes.
"If Mazda is about the driving experience, then the test drive ought to be the centerpiece," said Charlie Hughes, president of Mazda North American Operations. "It shouldn't be a 12-step march around the car, then the salesman throwing you the keys because he can't be bothered to come along."
Hughes said that when a customer walks in the door, the first thing he or she is asked is: "Are you here for the Mazda test drive?"
"Ninety percent of people will say, 'yes,' so we're off to a good start," Hughes said. "Then we ask what kind of car they want to drive, and whether it's a five-speed or automatic. We're working together."
At Bountiful Mazda near Salt Lake City, the test vehicles are parked in a special area in front of the store. Because Mazda's corporate Web site allows customers to arrange dealership test drive appointments online, there is a strong chance the exact vehicle the customer wants will be parked at the Drive Center, washed and ready to go.
During the test drive, the customer is encouraged to drive more aggressively than he or she might normally. Flooring the gas, stomping the brakes and squealing the tires around a long corner are encouraged. Rather than the usual five-minute stop-and-start exercise, the test drive can be 20 minutes long.
Jack Peake, a salesman at Bountiful Mazda, welcomes the change. A self-proclaimed "gearhead," Peake informs the driver of fun stretches ahead and how to get the most out of the Mazda being driven.
"Make sure you get to that red light first," he instructs. "It's a great uphill run from there."
After the drive, it's time to get the customer thinking about buying.
"You have to encourage them to buy, but it can't be, 'What can I do to get you in this car today?'" Peake said.
"I try to get them into a series of little yeses, answering questions like, 'Is this a car you like?' or 'What color do you like?' Even if they leave the dealership, you want them to feel like they've had an experience that's out of the ordinary."