General Motors To Open The 'Un-Dealership'

General Motors Test Drive Studio/Internet Cafe illustration

General Motors is launching a pair of experiential marketing programs this year for its core Chevrolet brand that extends its corporate "May the Best Car Win" mantra into a multi-market, test-drive program that lets consumers drive both Chevy vehicles and the vehicles Chevy competes with. 

One of the programs leverages GM's presence at some 30 auto shows around the country, while the other is something completely new in the category: a permanent or semi-permanent, minimally branded, brick-and-mortar facility to be called "Test Drive Studio."

The latter, which will begin in four markets this spring, has been batted around GM for a while, per Steve Tihanyi, general director for marketing services, alliances and branded entertainment at the company. "It's a concept I discussed 10 years ago; now we are making it come to life," he says, adding that the facilities location will be based on ZIP code targets for Chevy products. It will be run on a pilot basis in Miami, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Chicago. If successful, the studio program will be expanded, he says.



The studios will feature Chevy's "heart of the market" products for "modern families," per Tihanyi: Malibu, Traverse, and Equinox, plus competitors in each of the segments in which the Chevy vehicles compete.

"It's a non-threatening environment," says Tihanyi. "It's not pressure -filled; you can drive all the right competitive products against the [vehicles]. If you take Malibu as an example, we will also have vehicles like Camry, Accord, Ford Fusion, or Taurus, so you get a really good cluster of vehicles to experience at your own pace."

The studios, which will be either in industrial zones or high-traffic retail areas -- Tihanyi says GM is still working on locations -- will likely have a laid-back, perhaps "industrial-hip," feel, with WiFi, and a café/lounge. "Ultimately, we want it to be customer friendly; we want them to feel good about being there. The last thing we want is people hovering over you. It will not look like a dealership and will not be branded Chevrolet," he says.

Tihanyi says that to market the program, Chevrolet will do an extensive digital play in the four markets, tracking people as they are shopping, "So, hypothetically, if you are on and shopping a Camry, we are going to offer up an opportunity to come to the Test Drive Studio in that market to compare everything you have in your shopping set right now. Our feeling is you may have not had the Malibu in your consideration set, but if you try it, you will."

The company is also launching a competitive test-drive program that coincides with auto shows in 30 markets around the country. "What we are trying to do is leverage the period of the auto show to create this experience. One thing we know about auto shows is a lot of people who come will be in market in zero to 12 months," he says.

3 comments about "General Motors To Open The 'Un-Dealership' ".
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  1. Joan Voight from Business media, March 11, 2010 at 2:05 p.m.

    Saturn dealerships were working on something like this back in 2007. Such showrooms would have been a good match for the no-haggle reputation of that brand. Seems that GM may miss Saturn more than it anticipated.

  2. David Felfoldi from Test Drive Studio, March 29, 2010 at 3:48 p.m.

    Check out our new website at to register for V.I.P. status and be among the first to schedule your test drive when we open in your neighborhood.

    A little bit of information about Test Drive Studio...

    At Test Drive Studio, you can test drive and compare Chevy, Ford, Honda, and Toyota. All in one place. No cost, no hassle, no pressure.

    The process will be simple -- sign in, tell us a little about yourself, pick the cars you want to drive and schedule a time that’s convenient for you. When you arrive, you’ll be greeted by our friendly, knowledgeable staff who’s only interest is to help you compare and learn about the cars you drive. No dealer or salesperson will ever be present, so you’ll never be asked to buy anything – ever.

    Take your time and enjoy the drive – on your own or with a companion. Then, when you’re done, continue your research in our convenient lounge and share your experience with family and friends.

    Stay in touch with us by following us on or becoming a Facebook Fan at

  3. Brian Hoecht from Ai-Dealer, April 27, 2010 at 8:11 a.m.

    It would be interesting to see how their software works, because surely they do want to sell you a car if you want one. What would they do if you say you want to buy one? Say no? Set up an appointment for you to go to a dealer?

    There are a lot of legalities involved in who legally can sell a vehicle to a consumer.

    Anyway, this article caught my eye and I'm making this post, because software like this is what my company does - let's online consumers from anywhere shop and buy from a dealer without having to go in to the dealership. I'm not here to market so I'll just leave that out there as suggestion if the marketing execs behind this program are following along. I'm easy to find if you'd like to speak further.

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