Auto brands are spending significantly on experience centres—more than any other sectors—to deliver a different level of behind-the-wheel experience for petrolheads. For instance, brands such as Mercedes-Benz and Porsche are expanding on their experience centres in recent years; the latter is banking on race track facilities to maximise consumer engagement among motorsports fans.
Newly developed VI Auto World, a 700,000-sqm multi-purpose complex in Tianjin with retail spaces, is built with a 4.28-km race track designed by the renowned Hermann Tilke, as well as a 8,000-sqm paddock.
A multi-story mall for second-hand luxury car dealer AKD is currently under construction in the vicinity—its third in China after Shenzhen and Shanghai—and is expected to be ready in two years. Meanwhile, other event facilities include a 13,000-sqm multi-purpose area and a 1,500-sqm ballroom, with the latter currently under construction. VI Auto World is privately owned and jointly developed by US-based Waitex Group and mainland developer Sino-Ocean Group.
Antoine Brunnel, director of sales and operations, VI Auto World, is fairly confident that the race track will be the venue’s USP for car dealership tenants, OEM players and planners working on automotive events.
He says that the venue’s location, a 60-minute drive from Beijing with accessibility from expressways and high-speed rail, is attractive with a catchment of 35 million people from Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei. Among the confirmed tenants include BMW who has signed up for a 2,000-sqm showroom. Brunnel added that the venue is currently in discussions with with Mercedes-Benz and Audi for the brands to take up dealership spaces.
“All brands are focusing on experience, you put the person in the car…As soon as you are in the car, you realise that the car is amazing, you come out of it just wanting to buy the car. I think it’s a good way to show the client, [that] they would be able to upsell more than they would have in a showroom,” said Brunnel.
The race track is FIA-certified and has hosted its first race—round 4 of the China Endurance Series—in early November. “The main purpose [of the venue] is still commercial events because it’s commercial land…driving experience for VIPs, car launches, dealership training. We have the space to literally accommodate anything they want to do with cars,” said Brunnel.
“The Shanghai circuit [Shanghai International Circuit] is longer and wider but there’s nothing else to support it, unless you purely do a race. There’s no way to support a commercial event there [because] it’s very expensive to set up there, it’s [also] very inconvenient to go all the way there,” he added.
He emphasised that the race track at V1 Auto World offers a better value proposition, renting out at an average of 170,000 RMB (US$24,611) per day, compared to around 420,000 RMB for the circuit in Shanghai. Discounted rates are offered to rental tenants at the venue.
The venue is also building an exclusive motorsport club, V1 Motor Club, which is set to be ready next July, with a 40-room hotel offering "VIP brand experiences" and automobile storage facilities for members.
Vintage car shows are among some of the activities planned for the motor club, Brunnel said. While China has strict regulations on the import of classic cars, the venue's location in the port city of Tianjin comes at an advantage as vehicles shipped there are allowed to stay longer compared to the standard period of three months in most Chinese cities.