How longer test drives can boost sales

Posted by Meg Bernazzani on November 28, 2019

A test drive is the one thing customers can’t do online, so it’s among the main draws to physical showrooms and potentially your best opportunity to interact with customers in the flesh. The industry-standard loop from and to the dealership is alive and well, but more and more manufacturers have begun offering extended test drives, such as Mercedes, SEAT, and Volvo – often for days at a time.

Longer test drives can be an extremely powerful sales tool if you have the capacity to offer them. We explain the perks and how you can make them work for you.

Why offer extended test drives?

The idea is that, the longer a potential buyer spends with a car, the more attached they become to it. A half-hour drive might be enough to get a general feel for the vehicle but living with it for two days gives customers time to get much better acquainted.

They can use the car as they would if they owned it and find out how it fits into their normal routine. They’ll likely go out of their way to put more miles on the clock and give it a thorough test and, chances are, they’ll also show it off to friends, family or colleagues, whose opinions can be very persuasive indeed. More than a quarter of consumers rated family, friends, and co-workers as having a major impact on their purchase decision, according to the 2018 Deloitte Global Automotive Consumer Study.

Do longer test drives work?

SEAT is arguably the biggest success story of a manufacturer offering extended test drives. It rolled out a four-day programme, specifically for fleet and business customers, across its range in March 2017, having previously limited it to a couple of key models.

In that same year, its sales rose by 18.28% and they were up 12% last year; for context, the UK new car market fell by 5.7% and 6.8% in 2017 and 2018 respectively. The company obviously made other efforts to achieve those figures but has specifically pointed to its performance in the fleet market as one of the pillars of its recent success, of which those long test drives are a big part – and it’s still offering them.

Extended test drives and EVs

Dealers, manufacturers, and owners have spoken of the benefits of allowing customers to spend lengthier periods with electric vehicles before they commit to a purchase. While plug-in vehicles are very much on the rise, many people are still wary of the technology and worry about things such as range anxiety, the practicalities of charging and the general business of living with them day-to-day.

A conventional daytime test drive won’t allay those fears, but 48 hours or more is often enough to change a sceptic’s opinion. Again, it’s the opportunity to use the car as you would every day that makes the difference, and it’s incredibly pertinent for EVs. When customers do just that, many realise they can manage with the car’s range and quickly get used to the charging process. What’s more, most people really like EVs after they’ve spent a bit of time with them; the near-silent operation, instant low-end acceleration and the fact that they don’t have to pay for petrol or diesel are all rather appealing.

Longer test drives: the small print

Franchised dealers representing manufacturers with extended test drive schemes will obviously be led by the OEM and many will already be operating such initiatives. However, there’s nothing stopping retail groups and individual dealers from starting their own programmes, but it’s important to cover off the finer details before you do.

Capacity is the primary concern because you’re going to need a sufficient amount of demo vehicles to be without them for however long you plan to run the tests. Your insurance company needs to know too, as there will likely be additional liabilities associated with sending customers away with your cars for a few days.

An efficient and reliable booking system is paramount; you don’t want to be turning away potential buyers because of botched reservations and you also need to know exactly when the vehicles are coming and going – your dealer management system may be able to help with this.

Finally, you also want a watertight process for taking details from the customer. The security element comes first and foremost, but buyers should expect to hand over extensive personal details if they’re disappearing with a vehicle overnight, which has the double benefit of providing you with a suite of contact details to chase up the lead – with their permission, of course.

Topics: industry insights, test drives