Business | Automotives

Driving clubs offer a sense of community

Membership rolls continue to grow

  • By Manoj Nair Associate Editor
  • Published: 15:29 January 2, 2013
  • Gulf News

Dubai

Buy a car – or bike - in the UAE and chances are that you could just as easily find your way into one driving club or the other. Every other make has got its band of committed followers; in fact it is a no-brainer that greater the emotive pull of a brand, the higher a club’s membership base.

And these clubs are thriving. It so happens that the local automotive sector has had a rollicking run over the last two years and a new breed of buyers want to put their vehicles to use other than for the home to office and back runs. Driving clubs and the sense of community they offer with the like-minded are what they want. Some would even venture to say that driving clubs are a community in themselves.

“Our club is family-oriented and with few exceptions the whole family, including the children, join our events,” said Fred Kamperman, President of the Ferrari Owners Club UAE. “We do around 14 events each event season, and runs from September to May.

“Some events are car-focussed, like driving our Ferraris on the race track (four times each season) or driver trainings and some with instructors from Ferrari Italy.

“Other events are of a more social character. They involve a fun drive in a convoy of Ferraris to different interesting places in the UAE for a lunch or dinner.”

Given the brand’s storied history, it is interesting that the local Ferrari owners club came into being as recently as March 2008. Even then, it was the first officially recognised one for the region. Currently, there are nearly 150 members, who own Testarossa’s answering to a 1990s vintage as well as swanky new 458 Italia’s, 599 GTO’s, California’s and FF’s.

But membership comes with one caveat – “The Club is open to current and previous owners of registered Ferraris; we currently do not have a program for fans of the brand,” said Kamperman.

It is in the natural order of things that only bonafide owners are allowed.

The Porsche Club UAE has a similar mandatory requirement. “The Club caters to the particular needs and interests of Porsche owners in the Emirates,“ said Karim Al Azhari, Team Driver at the Porsche Center Dubai - Al Nabooda Racing and President of Porsche Club UAE, which was formed in 1998.

“The general objectives are to provide the highest standards of courtesy and safety on the roads; to enjoy the goodwill and fellowship engendered by owning a Porsche; to maintain the highest standards of operation and performance of the marque and to establish mutually beneficial relationships with the Porsche factory, dealers and other service sources.“

Throw in a packed season of events and a club has it made. The Porsche Club UAE on its part mounts four ‘driving experiences‘ at the YAS Marina F1 Circuit.

“Porsche drivers get to experience their cars and receive professional guidance around the full GP 5.54-kilometre Circuit,“ said Al Azhari. “These are exclusive events and Porsche owners enjoy the magical experience run under the incredible Circuit lighting system until midnight.“

The 39th such event is to take place on January 25.

Official accreditation with the manufacturer is a requisite, which in its wake also brings in cohesive support from the concerned dealerships. The Porsche Club UAE has partners in Al Nabooda Automobiles, Pirelli, Brembo by ORZ Performance and Motorvision by GTV.

Dealership sources say that driving clubs now represent an integral part of the automotive landscape here. “It offers a medium to maintain a lasting relationship with a car owner, and ideally a life-long one,“ said a marketing manager at a dealership for an US brand. “Trying to tap new buyers is not what this is about.“

Not that all car clubs carry the imprint of the manufacturer. Dubai’s driving clubs are eclectic as the brands they represent.

There is a dedicated one for vintages and another where member-patrons’ tastes are more inclined towards muscle cars.

Rest assured, there is a driving club somewhere in town that would be in sync with your inclinations. If driving clubs have anything to do with it, you will not have to look far.

The Jeep Jamboree has been set for January 18 and is being organised by Trading Enterprises, the distributor for Dubai, Sharjah and northern emirates. It carries an admission charge of Dh149.

Last year’s event had more than 200 Jeep owners participate.

Local bikers want their clubs as well

Driving clubs are not the monopoly of car brands. Harley-Davidson – and its local fans - will not have it that way.

The Harley Owner Group is the world’s largest factory sponsored social club, and its Dubai chapter is marking its 19th anniversary in January. Incidentally, it is the first chapter in the Middle East and now calls on a membership tally of 417.

“Yes, you need to own a Harley-Davidson and once you do, one can sponsor one associate member,” said an official at the manufacturer’s local office. “Once you buy a Harley-Davidson from the dealership, the owner gets a one-year free international as well as local membership after which you need to renew on your own.

“In some of the events, Harley Davidson does get involved, specifically if it has an international crowd potential. On a local level, the involvement is more as a support role.”

CREDIT: M. N.

Gulf News
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