Mazda Set to Take Drivers to School

“Dealership test drives have gone the way of the dodo bird,” said Jack Nerad, co-host of syndicated radio show America on the Road and former editor of Motor Trend. Instead, the new tool to get the average Joe Car Buyer behind the wheel just may be a driving school.

Land Rover and Hummer sponsor them. BMW’s Performance Center is legendary among gearheads. And the concept went wide in 1997, when Jeep launched Jeep 101, a program that draws 85,000 people annually.

Now, Mazda is introducing Rev It Up, an initiative it claims will be the world’s largest performance-driving school and competitive event. (Most car maker driving courses are not competitive; Audi has a competitive event, the Quattro Challenge, but it is only in four markets.)

Mazda is partnering with Automotive Marketing Consultants Inc. for Rev It Up, which launches March 28 in San Francisco. Drivers receive instruction by professionals and then compete on a timed course. Mazda vp of marketing Kristen Simmons said Rev It Up coincides with the introduction of the Mazda6 sports sedan and the rotary-engine-powered RX-8. Rev It Up’s national champion will win a Mazda6.

“It is critically important to be able to convey [performance] to potential buyers in a way they can actually feel it for themselves,” said Chris Cedergren, an analyst at Nextrend in Thousand Oaks, Calif. “The driving school for the masses is a good approach.”

The Irvine, Calif.-based car maker expects more than 20,000 people to participate in the program, offered in 15 markets. Co-sponsors include ESPN, which will debut an interactive brand experience at Rev It Up sites. Simmons said Mazda shop Doner in Newport Beach, Calif., may plug the events in local TV and print ads for dealer groups. She declined to discuss the budget.