by Michelle Krebs
John Koonce, owner of Central Auto Body in Roselle, IL recently spent three days with his wife Sharon learning to drive. The couple climbed into one of their two Hummer H1s - the purple one with the dragon airbrushed on the side and "FIXUMM" on its Illinois license plate - and headed to South Bend, IN.
There, at the headquarters of AM General, the maker of Hummer sport utilities, the Koonce couple attended the Hummer Academy. The three-day school allows Hummer owners to drive the sport utilities over the same rugged trails used to train the military. The participants traverse a basin filled with 30 inches of water. They climb three-foot walls. They creep over a series of logs. They maneuver down hills of jagged rocks, and then trek back up again.
If AM General and General Motors (which now owns the licensing rights to Hummer) have their way, Hummer owners will graduate from the academy not only with well-honed driving skills but also with even more enthusiasm for the vehicle they purchased than when they arrived. In turn, they might be prompted to keep buying Hummers.
The Hummer Academy is just one driving school created by a vehicle manufacturer to make their owners feel good about their purchase and keep them loyal to the brand. Driving schools and other experiential circumstances, along with clothing bearing the brand's insignia and lifestyle magazines from manufacturers, are becoming common.
None of the experiences manufactured by automakers is likely to sell a vehicle. For instance, it seems pretty clear the Koonce family is already sold on Hummers, with one parked outside John's auto body repair shop as advertising for the business and with the yellow one used by Sharon to chauffeur their three kids. Yet some of their fellow classmates at the Hummer academy would consider upgrading their current Hummer H1 or adding the smaller Hummer H2 to their fleet when it goes on sale next summer.
Read the complete article in the October 6, 2001 issue of Crain's Chicago Business. Check out their website at chicagobusiness.com.