Saturday, May 16, 2009

Changi's 30-hectare car 'showroom'

From Merc to Audi to Porsche, they're all making a beeline for Changi Exhibition Centre

AUTO distributors are 'looking east' these days in a bid to ramp up flagging car sales - east, as in the Changi Exhibition Centre.

The CEC's sprawling 30-hectare grounds at Changi Coast Road are better known as the site of the Singapore Air Show. But between aviation events, the CEC also attracts car companies, which use the site for everything from launching a new model to conducting driver training.

For them, the CEC's huge 100,000 square metre outdoor display area is the biggest draw. The space is equivalent to 33 soccer fields and can house 10 Boeing 747 jumbo jets at any one time.

'This space allows me to do everything in the safety exercise programme,' said Gilbert Kwek, GM for sales and marketing at Mercedes-Benz Singapore. 'It's the only car park of its scale in Singapore.'

An 11-day Mercedes-Benz Driving Experience was held at CEC last month, the second such annual event held there. Previously, Mercedes had used venues such as the old Police Academy at Thomson Road and an unopened stretch of road in Tuas.

'But the size was not ideal,' said Mr Kwek. 'The Tuas road was a very straight road but not wide enough for certain exercises which require a run-off area.'

He added that overseas venues like Malaysia's Sepang race track have also been used, but the cost of transporting people and cars was much higher.

So does having a driver training event with overseas instructors at CEC help to sell cars?

'Definitely,' said Mr Kwek. 'We get to showcase our technology and demonstrate how far the car can go in terms of braking, stability and dynamics. Yet from the customer's point of view, this is not a sales pitch because he gets to appreciate what he paid for.'

But he could not give exact sales figures, saying: 'It is hard to quantify because the purchases are not made immediately.'

Mr Kwek added that Mercedes is planning to go back to CEC next year, subject to instructor availability.

Audi Singapore is another fan of the CEC venue. The German premium carmaker was one of the first car companies to use the facility when it launched its A4 sedan there last May. The month-long event - the biggest at CEC to date - cost Audi $2 million and it even used CEC's air-conditioned exhibition hall for a driving display.

'We certainly had more converts from an event like that versus a normal showroom test-drive,' said Audi Singapore managing director Reinhold Carl.

He explained that the CEC was a unique event venue and ideal for demonstrating the 'dynamism and performance of the new A4' with the customer behind the wheel.

'Space is at a premium in Singapore,' said Mr Carl. 'The fact that the roads are well-paved and the accessibility to the venue sealed our decision to hold our launch at CEC.'

In addition to the proximity to both the city and the airport, CEC also offers car event organisers the advantage of minimising the impact of noise disturbance to others, said Jimmy Lau, managing director of Singapore Airshow & Events Pte Ltd, which owns and manages CEC.

'It is also one of the very few venues in the world which offers a breathtaking panoramic seafront view,' he said. 'The amount car event organisers pay for rental is also definitely less than a city venue.'

Mr Lau added that currently, car-related events account for 'more than 80 per cent of event days at CEC'.

Rental of the CEC, which opened in February 2008, can cost anything from $8,000 to $40,000 a day, depending on the area required, and whether the open space and indoor options are chosen.

For example, it was $8,000 a day for the Lexus Driving Experience event, while Porsche paid $120,000 to hold its six-day Porsche World Roadshow in February.

For Porsche, the area it took up included the 2.6km Aviation Park Road straight. Together with additional logistics like marquees, catering and the importation of the cars from Germany, Porsche spent $500,000 on the whole event.

Authorised distributor Stuttgart Auto said the amount is worth it even though there is 'no immediate link' between its driving event and purchases of Porsche cars.

'It raises awareness of the brand and it begins the process of convincing the potential customer about the car's capabilities,' said Porsche distributor Karsono Kwee.

'It does not lead to a direct sale on the spot, but it helps. From there, we need to follow up,' he added.

Source: Business Times, 16 May 2009

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