On two high-speed race tracks last month, about 1,300 Jaguar sales and service employees were put behind the wheel of the new F-Type convertible.
They evaluated the sports car, received technical classroom training and drove competing models, all part of the new way Jaguar Land Rover North America is training dealership personnel.
Hands-on experience is "the only way you create true advocacy," said Jeffrey Jennings, the brands' director of training, development and recognition. "Everybody has to be exposed to training and launches."
That includes front-desk receptionists, he said. If a would-be customer asks about a new vehicle, "and the cashier or receptionist says 'I do not know what you are talking about,' that does not bode well."
Last fall, Jennings, 44, was lured from Sonic Automotive, where he was credited with improving the public retailer's training curriculum for its 10,000-plus employees.
The training program for the F-Type convertible, which goes on sale May 20, was Jennings' first major event. Each dealership was required to send at least four employees. Eighty percent of the network's sales and service professionals attended, Jennings said.
The training was kept to 1 1/2 days with six different driving circuits to show the car's handling and performance. There were two locations, the Circuit of the Americas F1 track in Austin, Texas, and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Jennings wants to show that the F-Type compares favorably with competitive vehicles. So he brought to the tracks the six-cylinder Mercedes-Benz SLK350 and Porsche Boxster and the eight-cylinder Mercedes-Benz SL550 and Porsche 911.
A similar training session will be held in June for the redesigned Range Rover Sport SUV that goes on sale in September.
Future events will include most shop technicians and mechanics, but that's at least six months out. "I don't want the technicians to feel like second-class citizens," Jennings said.