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GM's bet on Vegas
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
By TERRY BOX / The Dallas Morning News​

Spinning wheels will soon join the tumbling dice and 6-foot showgirls in Las Vegas.

General Motors Corp. plans to open an unusual test-drive facility on an 11-acre site next month near the Sahara Hotel & Casino.

The Drive will have two courses that people can use to flog some of GM's more interesting vehicles. One is an off-road course so dirt fans can bounce around and over in Hummer H2 and H3 models, Silverado pickups and the General's new full-size SUVs.

Of more interest to those of us who prefer tire smoke to clouds of dust is a half-mile performance course with turns, jogs and chicanes. You have to take a professional instructor along as a passenger on both courses, but, hey, you can try to scare him.

Several of the test vehicles should make that pro squirm, including the 400-horsepower Cadillac CTS-V, the 469-horsepower Cadillac STS-V, the 400-horse Chevy Corvette and 400-horsepower Pontiac GTO. Also available will be the new and impossibly cute Pontiac Solstice, the crazy, conflicted Chevy SSR (am I a car or am I a truck?), and, for nonconformists and Ice People, quirky Saab 9-3 convertibles.

The whole idea is to entice people to try GM's vehicles in a fun environment – particularly those who still equate the company with Cavaliers and Azteks.

"At the end of the day, this is about getting people behind the wheels of our cars and trucks," said Steve Tihanyi, general director of marketing and entertainment alliances for GM. "This is not a race track. You won't get up to 100 mph, but you will get a good sense of the cars' capabilities."

And by offering the Drive in Vegas, GM can tap into the traffic at a crossroads of America.

"Las Vegas is a big destination city," said Mr. Tihanyi. "This year, they estimate they will get 44 million visitors. Even if we get a small percentage of visitors, you're talking hundreds of thousands of people."

The facility will be in operation for at least six months – probably from late March to December. Then GM will evaluate its effectiveness and go from there. It could continue, end or even be expanded to other cities.

Mr. Tihanyi said fees will probably be in the $10 to $15 range. "When you charge a fee, you weed out people who just want to yahoo around the track," he said.

The center expects to be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week.

Over the next six months, GM wants to attract 200,000 people to its "autotainment" center in the neon desert. The company hopes that a significant portion are from Southern California, where U.S. vehicles are as reviled as they are in England and France.

Lastly – and I know this crossed your mind – you can't go hit the course after a few drinks, looking to wow the locals.

Everyone must submit to a Breathalyzer test, Mr. Tihanyi said.
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