By on October 24, 2006

zoom-zoom2222.jpgI'm fresh back from a Mazda marketing boondoggle called “Zoom-Zoom Live." Ford's Japanese brand conducted these ride 'n drives in major markets across the US: DC, Boston, New York, Miami, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta and Chicago. I attended the San Francisco event [actually on a decommissioned Naval air base in Alameda, but the SF skyline was visible]. These kind of "bring the consumers to the product and let 'em loose" deals are supposedly the wave of the future, "high-touch" marketingspeakwise. Unfortunately, car companies seem to have a very strange idea of what "let 'em loose" actually means. 

Upon arrival, we were parked in designated areas – Mazda owners and performance cars over here, please – then herded into the Registration tent. Organizers quickly made with the paperwork: a form releasing Mazda from any responsibility for anything, ever. Just in case that didn't cow us into submission, a smiling Mazda rep read us the riot act and pinned us with some stinking badges– which had to be worn at all times. A (static) Mazdaspeed 6 and a CX-7 whetted our automotive appetites while we waited for the mandatory advance penance video. This paean to pistonhead performance tried to convince us that Mazda is the only brand producing passion on planet earth, narrated by a man wearing a polo shirt without a Mazda logo.

Finally, we were cut loose. Gimme a steering wheel! Well, wait just a minute there buddy-san. Or 120. When signing up online, we were invited to select a starting time. It quickly became obvious that temporal measurement was provided by Albert Einstein; the process was nothing more than a relatively feeble attempt to create an even flow of mass over the event’s two day time – space continuum. Meanwhile, we perused tents displaying all of Mazda's fine products. Except the Mazdaspeed 3 (MS3). And the Tribute. And the MPV. And the B-Series truck (which was probably just as well, since the event was about driving, not plodding about with mulch). Other tents sheltered Mazda engines, the new MX-5 Retractable Hardtop and, oddly, a neglected slot car track. A roach coach served up greasy grub for g-force nausea induction.

We had four different coned tracks from which to pick, The "Mazdaspeed Challenge" was a half-mile hike away, where the lines were deeply reminiscent of a certain mouse-themed amusement park (30-minute wait, 25-second ride). In fact, the the hang time for a MazdaSpeed6 (MS6) stretched over two hours. The "Sports Course" was another Rip Van Winkle deal, [eventually] ending with some seat time in an MX-5 or RX-8. The "Matched Time Gymkhana" was a shorter wait, as was the "CX-7 Target Hunt." This something-less-than-PC event gave attendees the chance to shoot rolling cardboard cutouts of the Ford Edge and Buick Enclave with a large caliber paintball gun.

Not really. Pilots drove Mazda's new CUV down a closed course, aiming towards (but not directly at) a set of yellow cones. Our aim: run the CX-7’s nose sensor so that the outside edge of your left front wheel steers between 6 and 18 inches from each of these yellow cones, and complete the course within a specified time frame. I did neither very well, proving what? The CX-7’s sight lines and maneuverability are just as crummy as any numb and inept SUV. Most excellent marketing Ted!

The Gymkhana was a bit more fun, but many of us forgot that the point was to match a time, not to go as fast as humanly possible. This is not advisable in a “Multi Activity Vehicle,” as evidenced by the number of drivers who negotiated curves in the Mazda 5 on three wheels– only to be shown the exit gate by some sour-faced Mazkateers. The outside rear left tread on one of the 5’s was completely worn. All of the vehicles presented for our dining and dancing pleasure had autoboxes or, at best, manumatics. This was probably a good thing.

On the Sports Course, four MX-5's were evenly equipped with manuals and automatics, the latter quite rightly shunned by unqualified drivers in search of public humiliation. Waiting in line, we were entertained by "contestants" who stalled and shuddered their way to the starting line, accompanied by a chorus of most unsportsmanlike hoots and hollers. The event organizers needed a wiffle bat to pound these drivers about the head into the slushbox cars. Those of us who are three pedals proficient waited impatiently, inhaling the acrid smell of burning clutches in the morning. I asked for a list of VINs at exit, so I wouldn't meet any of these vehicles on the used market. Very funny sir. Request denied.

At the end of this [non-Tapscott] carnival of cars, we were awarded “points” in the great Whose Line Is It Anyway? tradition. We were then handed an exit questionnaire and a hat. I’m sure we’ll see an emailed post-briefing, just in case we want to see how badly the data capture fiends had mispelled our names.

From a TTAC industry observer's POV, the most interesting part of the program was the demographics of those inattentive– I mean, in attendance. Fully 90% of the participants were 20-somethings. So where was the MS3? If you're trying to build street cred with a touchy-feely demo, why keep your star player in the locker room? Sure the great unwashed (though not fully indebted) might have broken it, but c'mon. Who's zooming who?

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34 Comments on “Who’s Zoomin’ Who? (Whom?)...”

  • avatar

    I almost went to the Dallas event, and I’m glad I didn’t. I participate in the BMW Ultimate Drive every year, and it sounds like a much better event. You get to drive the cars unsupervised and raise money for charity. No, there is no track time, but you get to drive BMWs for free.

  • avatar

    I went to the Jeep equivalent event a few years back and it felt very much the same way.

    A whole lot of time spent on a microscopic bit of content for each participantadvertising target.

  • avatar

    I still haven’t quite gathered the real point of these events versus, say, just setting up a time with a salesman and telling him you want to drive 3 or 4 cars. Unless, of course, you’ll trade long waits and rigid structure for the pleasure of not inconveniencing your friendly local salesguy…

    When I was selling cars at one of those used superstores, it was pretty easy to spot the late-teen/early-20s guys who came in asking about the WRX or the new A4 that just arrived. Naturally, I’d give them the benefit of the trust fund doubt for a test drive, then determine their seriousness (with predictable results…so I would usually then swap seats with them and give it a run, making their faces lose all color, etc). With these events, there’s not real prospect “qualification” process, so IMO it doesn’t sound very effective.

  • avatar

    “A roach coach served up greasy grub for g-force nausea induction.”

    Hey, I wasn’t even there!! Otherwise – sounds like a real snoozer of an “event”..

  • avatar

    I like the idea of shooting paintballs at competing vehicles. Maybe once the Ten Worst selection process is over, Robert can arm us all with paintball guns and we can go around town shooting the 10 “winners.”

    I got dibs on the Compass.

  • avatar

    I could do that, but it would be wrong.

  • avatar

    I went to the Dallas event (Saturday morning just after the rains) with my girlfriend and found it worthwhile and even fun. The target track was lame, but the others were pretty nice. The lines were much longer for the Mazdaspeed 6 tent, but our sports course had 5 or 6 Miatas and 3 RX-8s and not too bad of a line. The Miata line was dwindling to only a couple of people at times. We drove the RX-8 twice, and the Miatas at least TEN times (including the automatic once for me and once for her).

    In the gymkhana area, also with nonexistent lines for some of the vehicles, we hit the 3 several times, the 6 a couple of times, the 7, and even the van. I’d say we had twenty-five drives altogether, not including some where we got to switch off and drive it twice. The Miata was by far the highlight of the event for me, and even though I’d still need a real-world drive to make up my mind, the event did put that car much higher on my list as a result. For a free Saturday morning event that was right down the road, I found the whole thing satisfying. Had it been as busy as the SF event sounds, I might feel differently. The one minus was the lack of Mazdaspeed 3 as you mentioned…

  • avatar

    I thought about taking a trip to attend this event last year. But, partly because I heard about the lines, I didn’t go.

    I’ve been to a number of these events sponsored by various manufacturers. A few are very good. Most are lame. You can count on a Chrysler event to be among the latter, with long waits and very limited driving courses–the lawyers are clearly heavily involved.

    The best have been run by BMW and Lexus. Maybe the lines are longer elsewhere, but the Taste of Lexus event I attended in Detroit a couple years ago had lots of cars, good courses, and short waits for nearly every car. The then-new Cadillac XLR is the only exception I recall, and the wait for that was maybe 15 minutes. And BMW has actually sponsored free two-hour driving clinics. Whoever thinks an X3 cannot handle, and I was such a person at one point, has never been around a course with one. The things the instructors could make that SUV do…

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    I did a similar BMW-Volvo-Subaru gig last year here in Houston. While it was awesome being able to push the limits on these cars, by the third event I was horribly motion-sick. Sadly, no roach coach because I would have paid a million dollars to feel better…..

  • avatar

    I attended the Zoom Zoom Live event in DC back in August. The key is to arrive early in the morning. I was there at 9:00 am Sunday. No lines at all. The Miata was a blast. The Miata hardtop was not on display. Sounds like they added it to the later SF event. I’m guessing that is why the MazdaSpeed3 wasn’t there… it is still on a ship or at the factory in Hiroshima. Patience…

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    I will say that with the exception of the MX-5, Mazda offers the most sports focused line of cars this side of Porsche. That said, I attended one of these for Chevy with a press pass and everything (which let me cut to the front of the line). Not so much fun.

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    I apparently need to get on Mazda’s mailing list. Hell, make that every carmarker’s database. LOL

  • avatar
    Joe Chiaramonte

    In case you’re free this weekend, there’s a final event in Fontana at California Speedway. to register.

    Yeah, I’m sure it would have been a different experience had I started early in the morning. Plus, it ended up being “open to the public” according to the signs posted on the way in, but in Alameda, that may not have drawn too many more people.

  • avatar

    I did the GM equivalent a few years back, the Autoshow in Motion, and I must say it was pretty well put together. It was in Sacramento at the retired air base. They had 7 or 8 tracks, each set up for psuedo autocross or SUV antics. The cars they had for each track represented the best in GM’s coffer as well as samples of the leading competitors. A few of the cars were tits up, but most were drivable. Granted you had the limitations of once around the course, but they were big enough to have a bit of fun.

    Short lines for most cars, except of course the H2 and Corvette, which you could drive once. The other cars weren’t limited in the times you could drive, but after a few goes, it got a bit stale. The H2 had a proper Landroveresq course, with inclines and declines near the limit. You were acompanied with a spotter, but without there would have been issues. The Vette had both auto and stick versions, with seperate lines for each. You did have a passenger, but at least mine was pretty hands off. In fact he encouraged me to wring it out.

    All in all, it was a decent event, of course, I’ve gotten invites since and not partaken.

  • avatar

    “I will say that with the exception of the MX-5, Mazda offers the most sports focused line of cars this side of Porsche.”

    Mr Lieberman, can you explain your point of view? especially the with the exception of the MX-5 bit. I’m puzzled.

  • avatar

    I went to a similar event that was all GM last spring. Better than staring at the wall, but it seemed lame to set up cones to then have a zillion minders walking around the course making the “slow” move with their hands – and I wasn’t really squealing tires and that was on the nose heavy GXP Grand Prix.

    I wanted to tell the “minders” that I drive that fast every single day. I will say that it didn’t really look like all the expense and effort was worth it. Maybe a “Futurama” event would be better where you don’t have the expectation of tearing around in a car, but can spend an afternoon looking at engine cutaways. I think that was the issue: expectations were built up too high and then you found out there wasn’t really going to be hijinks.

    There were also a few “test drive” vehicles that we were actually allowed to drive around the city streets, albeit with a minder (North Korea has fewer minders) I wound out a G6 in first gear – reved to 6 grand and I was sorta impressed with the ohv lungs – but my GM dominatrix scowled at me like I had just violated her newborn infant.

  • avatar
    Joe Chiaramonte


    I still haven’t quite gathered the real point of these events versus, say, just setting up a time with a salesman and telling him you want to drive 3 or 4 cars.

    I had plenty of time in line to wonder how many of these 20-somethings would have never been given the opportunity to take 4 or 5 vehicles out for a hard spin at any dealer lot. Would they have even been given the time of day by a salesperson or shown the door after the first tire squeal?

    These events have the right idea in mind, they just need to focus the execution a little – just displaying the MS3 would have been a plus, there’s gotta be one around somewhere. We would have understood if we couldn’t drive one yet. And, even though I had to wait longer than I have for the Matterhorn, this was more fun.

  • avatar

    I get invited to a bunch of these, but never go (dunno what list I got on).

    But I just got one from Land Rover, that includes a class with a celebrity chef, time spent with a designer, an aroma expert, etc., ad nauseam on a private island community here in South Florida.

    I had to read through pages lof iterature to find out that only approximately 1/8 of the “experience” would actually be putting Land Rovers through their paces in a mock off road course on the island.

    I don’t know what that says about Land Rover, except “don’t focus on the driving….”

  • avatar

    The BMW dealership were I used to work hosted the BMW Ultimate Drive event for our area one year.

    By the end of the day, the M3 that attendees were driving was in the service area with a fried differential.

    Similar vehicular abuse could explain why the Mazdaspeed3 was absent from the Zoom Zoom Live

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    ah! typo! Typo!!!

    I meant with the exception of the B4000 and the MP5 — the minivan.

    Typo! Typo!

  • avatar

    Um.. yeah… I had such a similar experience at the Atlanta event this year, I could have written this editorial.

    Unfortunately, I had to drive an hour plus each way to get to the very remote Atlanta Motor Speedway. I ended up only having a little over an hour at the “event”, which got me a total of two 25 second ‘runs’. Both in automatics, just so I could skip ahead in line.

    The mx5 automatic was actually pretty nice. I can understand why someone that commutes in atlanta could make that compromise.

    The rx8 automatic was pretty weak… at least on the tight little course they had layed out, it never seemed to get into any kind of a power band.

    Incidentially, I got my card cut on my Rx8 run. I’m not sure why… I definately drove as fast as I could, but I didn’t spin or even take out any cones. I thought the point of going to such an event was to be able to test the cars in a closed, safe environment… which is exactly what I did.

    I also noticed the lack of MS3… even if they only had one on DISPLAY, it would have helped the buzz of the vehicle along… but to have it hitting magazines in the same timeframe and not having it there was a rank amaturish mistake.

    Overall, I’d say the zoom zoom event was a waste of my time. If I wanted to drive the cars again, I’d just show up at a dealer lot… chances are a salesman would give me as much leeway as I was getting at Zoom Zoom.

  • avatar

    I’ve gone to a couple of these events (although we don’t get nearly enough of them in Canada). Subaru did one for the release of the new Legacy, and it wasn’t half bad. Chrysler had a much larger one at the same time, and it wasn’t exactly bad, but it wasn’t as good. One of the biggest mistakes was putting the 300C/Magnum on a very small, very tight course. The point was to show off the traction control or whatever (which we weren’t allowed to turn off, for fear of instant death or something), but it just made the cars feel very, very bloated. Plus, Subaru gave me free stuff.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    I will say that at the Chevy one, if you paid $5 extra, you could get a ridiculous hot lap in a Z06.

    And… if you had a press credential… I love my job.

  • avatar

    And your job loves you.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    Yeah, but there is a 1,233 to 1 chance that I will still have a license come Tuesday… 90mph in second… this is a preview.

  • avatar

    THE TRUTH ABOUT THESE EVENTS: For those of you looking to get on the mailing list for these waitfests, check out where you can learn about upcoming events and the company running them. I also despise going to those events touted to be run by "legitimate" automotive publications (Car & Driver, Motor Trend) and having the duped public believe those staffing the event are the magazine's masthead. Instead, they are usually run entirely by GM's bankrole (Cadillac Motor Trend Challenge Anyone? This must be exposed to those who are not in-the-know). The reality is these events are staffed by 20-something hotshoes with a summer to kill (most of their time is spent erecting and disassembling tents) and a little SCCA experience. I, for one, would love to see these events charge a little more money to reduce the hoi polloi and let the enthusiasts have their fun. Why should we be subjected to listening to the mindless banter while waiting on hour lines about "the new Mazdaspeed does 160 because it says so on the speedometer." Oh vey.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    Sign up for the Porsche events.

    They are quite nice.

    No waiting, plus a very good lunch.

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    The point of any events, such as this, is you can drive the cars and not feel pressured by some poor bugger, working solely on commission, who has to make rent or a mortgage payment. Of course, the usual deal is your name is passed along to a dealership; however, that seems only fair. (Most of the time, you have to sign something for that to occur.) I have been to two Mercedes-Benz events such as this and one that SAAB put on. The SAAB event was the best since they had competing makes – BMW, etc. Of course and admittedly, they got to pick what drivetrains those cars had; and so the comparison might not have been most fair or the best. But still, you got to do a comparo in an hour, have a bite to ear and get input from fellow drivers. The demographics for the events I went to were much different than this Mazda event. I wish I lived in Northern California. It sounded like a lot of fun, Joe. You did a nice piece!

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    Correction to earlier post: in describing what takes place, meant to write “a bite to eat,” not a “bite to ear.”

  • avatar

    “We drove the RX-8 twice, and the Miatas at least TEN times”

    I was at the San Fran event and I got to drive the Miata twice. That’s it, twice. You suck.

    But overall I thought that the event wasn’t quite THAT bad. Part of the reason for the hours-long wait for the Mazdaspeed6 was due to those jockeys burning out those clutches. I heard that they started out with 10 6’s but were down to 4 by the time I got there.

    And say what you will about these events, but they are effective. My (limited, oh so very limited) time with the MX-5 solidified my decision to buy one, and it convinced me that the RX-8 and the ‘speed6 are two of the best ways to blow 30 grand.

    Still, the lines were absurdly long. And with that much real estate out there, they really could’ve made those tracks longer.

  • avatar

    I went to the Zoom Zoom event in Houston a few weeks ago with my girlfriend and brother. We had a blast! We only test drove the MX5 and RX8 but the wait wasn’t very long.

    My girlfriend was trying to decide between purchasing a Solstice and an MX5, and this event convinced her to go with the MX5 – even though she thinks the Solstice looks better. She was really impressed with the MX5’s folding hardtop. Clearly these marketing events work wonders!

  • avatar

    It seems like a lot of these test-and-drive events are filled with people who want to drive stick but have no idea how. At a tire-company-sponsored ride&drive, I grimaced every time an inept driver couldn’t go three feet without stalling.

    When I asked someone how long the clutches last, they said something like “about 200 miles.”

  • avatar

    We attended the Atlanta event as well, Bimmer, under similar circumstances. We drove over from Birmingham, got their late and suffered limited seat time.

    But, we seemed to have more fun than most of the other posters here. Sure, the lines were long and the courses weren’t up to AutoCross competiveness, but hey, where else are you gonna be able to thrash about someone else’s car with no threat of legal penalties at no cost?

    We’ve gone over for Chrysler (free handrolled cigars and wine tasting, and my wife won an LCD TV) and Mercedes (nice hats) events as well. But the most fun was the BMW event where we not only got seat time in Z4s, but were also given a (very) entry level driving class.

    I encourage anyone here to try these type events. Sure they’re pretty limited, but they’re free and sometimes educational and fun.

  • avatar

    Good article!

    I generally despise rigid events such as these, but I will occasionally attend them. I can see everything I need to see in one single Saturday and get it over with.

    And to tell the truth, I guess I do have (some) fun at them.

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