Carmakers turn to the silver screen to boost sales

Carmakers in Germany are counting on the lure of the silver screen to sell their latest models during the coronavirus pandemic.

Audi, Porsche and Seat are enticing motorists to drive-in events designed to encourage customers to buy their cars, as the industry suffers the sharpest slowdown in decades.

The carmakers, all Volkswagen Group brands, are offering customers the chance to watch their favourite films, bands or football teams, often combined with the chance to drive a brand new vehicle around a test track.

While dealerships in Germany have reopened, car sales fell by almost 35 per cent in the first half of the year to the lowest level since reunification 30 years ago, as marketing activities have been restricted.

Porsche’s experience centre in Leipzig, where it manufactures the Panamera and Macan models, usually does some 3,000 in-person car deliveries a year, providing gourmet catering, factory tours, and an opportunity to use its test track.

But when travel restrictions brought such activities almost to a standstill, the company transformed the site into a drive-in cinema, running daily screenings for up to 200 cars.

Before the evening’s film is shown, customers can choose to drive a new Porsche around the FIA-approved track, which features 11 curves from famous racetracks including Monaco’s “Loews” and Laguna Seca’s “Corkscrew”.

“The idea was tentatively around for quite some time,” said Jens Walther, marketing chief at Porsche Leipzig.

“When the business had to close because of all the restrictions around corona, we asked employees and said: ‘Whatever ideas you have — now is the time to bring them forward’.”

Porsche customers can watch a film after they have driven around the company’s test circuit © Photo: Porsche AG / Marco Prosch

Films showing on the 144 square metre screen in Leipzig include Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, featuring Margot Robbie in a black 911, and the latest Bad Boys film, which features the 911 Carrera 4S. The showcase event will be Steve McQueen’s Le Mans — the ultimate Porsche film.

“It’s different from the experience in a dealership. If you go to a dealership, you usually have to plan to buy a vehicle. Here, [you visit] to experience the brand, to see the heritage,” said Mr Walther. 

“With everything we do we hope that people fall in love with our cars and our brand,” he added.

With its Urban Cinema campaign, fellow VW-brand Audi is marketing its new A3 with events in 12 German cities, including some venues that can accommodate 1,000 cars. At each performance, the first few rows are reserved exclusively for A3s and the e-tron electric car. 

Customers, who can apply for tickets via local dealerships, are offered the chance to experience the A3’s Bang and Olufsen sound system, massage feature, and ambient lighting, Audi said, while also enjoying catering services.

As well as showing movies, including Charlie’s Angels, which features the R8 Spyder, the company used its base near Munich airport to allow drivers to watch a Bayern Munich match live, with live acts and DJs providing entertainment at half time.

“As a car manufacturer, a drive-in cinema of course has a particular charm,” said Hubert Link, head of marketing for Audi in Germany.

But while the feedback from dealerships has been positive, he added that Audi would continue to focus on traditional sales techniques, as “the human touch and personal experience are crucial to grow a premium brand and build long-term relationships”.

Spanish brand Seat also put on an exclusive live concert with German pop star Tim Bendzko at a drive-in cinema in Düsseldorf.

Audi said it was considering broadening its drive-in scheme beyond Germany, while Porsche said it was in discussion with branches in Los Angeles and Atlanta to launch a similar programme in the US.