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GM's last lap on Epcot's Test Track?

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Source: Orlando Sentinel

 

GM's last lap on Epcot's Test Track?

Jason Garcia | Sentinel Staff Writer

March 4, 2009

 

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The Test Track at Epcot has been sponsored by General Motors under a 10-year agreement signed in 1999. GM may not renew. (Walt Disney World, Walt Disney World / March 3, 2009)

 

One of Walt Disney World's marquee sponsorship deals is in jeopardy.

 

Struggling U.S. auto giant General Motors Corp. is considering pulling out as sponsor of Test Track, the high-speed Epcot attraction among the most popular rides in all of Disney World.

 

A 10-year contract between Disney and GM expires this year. And GM, which lost $31billion last year and is relying on loans from the federal government to stay in business, may not be able to afford to renew the pact.

 

Disney and GM are negotiating new terms but have so far been unable to strike a deal. GM has indicated it wants a resolution by the end of this month.

 

"We're still in discussions with them and haven't made a decision," GM spokeswoman Kelly Cusinato said. "It's definitely one that I think people are doing everything they can to preserve."

 

It is a lucrative partnership for Disney: Though neither company would discuss the terms, Automotive News reported last month that GM pays Disney close to $5million a year.

 

GM and other original corporate sponsors in Epcot, which opened in 1982, paid as much as $35million over 10years for their initial contracts, according to a former Epcot executive. The German engineering giant Siemens AG is currently paying Disney a reported $100million over 12years to sponsor Epcot's Spaceship Earth attraction.

 

Disney would not discuss details of its talks with GM.

 

"We continue to have a relationship with General Motors and are having ongoing discussions about continuing our relationship," spokeswoman Kim Prunty said Tuesday.

 

For GM, the marketing advantages of its Test Track sponsorship are obvious. The attraction is a top draw in Epcot, which lures an estimated 11million visitors each year, making it the second-busiest theme park at Disney World and the third-busiest in the United States.

 

The ride features vehicles, controlled by onboard computers, that carry guests through a series of simulated car-safety tests. During the 5 1/2-minute ride, guests are exposed to 100-degree temperature changes; bounced around hairpin turns; and hurtled through a final, outdoor sprint that reaches 60mph — the fastest top speed of any ride at Disney World.

 

Logo everywhere

GM's presence is everywhere. The carmaker's corporate logo is splashed throughout the pavilion that houses the ride. The queue includes a room featuring aerial photos of GM "proving grounds" around the world, from a desert track in Mesa, Ariz., to a cold-weather course in northern Ontario. Guests exit through a swanky showroom displaying more than a dozen GM vehicles and a gift shop hawking pink Cadillac ball caps, die-cast Corvettes and electronic-toy Hummers.

 

There are even computer terminals and a customer-service desk for guests to order GM sales brochures.

 

When the ride debuted in March 1999, GM's then-vice president for marketing and advertising in North America said it would "help build brand awareness, corporate image and ultimately introduce new customers to GM dealers and our products."

 

The benefits extend beyond advertising. Disney also purchases GM vehicles — including Chevy Trailblazers and Silverados and Saturn Vue hybrids — for its corporate fleet as part of the sponsorship deal, according to people familiar with the arrangement.

 

But as valuable as the pact is to GM, the company may no longer be able to afford it. The automaker has warned that it could go bankrupt without as much as $16.6billion in loans from the U.S. government — on top of $13.4billion in taxpayer loans it has already received.

 

GM would not be the first major corporate sponsor to drop out at Epcot. General Electric, ExxonMobil and AT&T are all former sponsors, while newcomers include Siemens and Hewlett-Packard. Theme-park analysts also say they are certain Test Track would continue operating even if GM pulled out, as the ride's capacity is vital to managing park crowds.

 

But losing GM would further pressure profits at Disney World, which is relying on deep hotel and ticket discounts to keep visitors coming despite the struggling economy.

 

Replacements?

Finding a replacement sponsor also could be tricky. A rival company is unlikely to want to take over a GM ride without making substantial changes, said Steve Baker, a former Epcot executive in charge of corporate sponsorships.

 

"Anybody coming in paying that kind of money would want their own fingerprints," said Baker, who is now president of Baker Leisure Group, an Orlando themed-entertainment consulting firm.

 

The most likely targets for a replacement sponsor at Test Track would be other car manufacturers. But the entire industry is struggling as the global recession depresses auto sales.

 

Marketing executives at Toyota Motor Corp. have discussed internally the prospect of sponsoring Test Track. But Joe Tetherow, a spokesman for Toyota Motor Sales USA, said "it would be premature to speculate on what's going to happen."

 

"We're cutting a lot of costs right now," Tetherow said. "But, obviously, there's going to be opportunities from time to time that come along that we might want to take a look at."

 

Jason Garcia can be reached at jrgarcia@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5414.

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FROM COASTER-NET.COM:

 

Test Track opened 10 years ago at EPCOT in the Walt Disney World Resort complex providing a much needed thrill ride to the park. The ride, which puts test cars (and passengers) through a rigorous series of automotive trials, has been sponsored by General Motors since its introduction.

 

The contract that GM signed with Disney was good for 10 years. That time is now up, and the two parties are currently in negotiations to try and strike a new deal, but the price of sponsoring a Disney attraction combined with the poor economy has things up in the air.

 

 

In all probability, a new sponsor would mean that certain changes would be made to the ride to give the new sponsor their own spin. It would also mean a lengthy period of down time for the top drawing attraction at EPCOT.

 

The real dillema though, is that while GM may not feel financially capable to sign another long term contract with Disney, every other automotive company is being hit by the current recession just as hard. It is possible that the ride may be sponsorless for a time.

 

Sponsorship Troubles: The poor economy is forcing some of Disney's sponsors to re-examine their spending

 

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I think test track would be able to sustain itself, the thing has always been busy when I've been in Disney. This could be a good opportunity for something else not automaker related, but still workable to sponsor it.

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Test Track won't shut down if it doesn't have a sponsor, GM also sponsored World of Motion but that didn't stop Disney from gutting it out and replace it with Test Track.

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If they do open it without a sponsor I hope they keep it in better condition then Wonders of Life. I was in Wonders of Life in December 06, one of the last few weeks it as open and it was not like Disney at all. Exhibits were gutted like some old interactive area that was just an open corner, the exercise bikes with screens were covered with tarps, the show areas sat empty. The queue for Body Wars had dirt all over the ceilings and the building was eeirly empty. There was no one in the line for Body Wars except for 4 other people waiting to board, they didn't even show the pre-show film.

 

I still wish they would have knocked it down and built Mission Space on the Wonders of Life site and kept Horizons open. That is probably my most missed ride in all of WDW.

Edited by Yoshi

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In 1995 I was at EPCOT the last night that the World of Motion operated to take part in its final ride. In the two pictures below you can see how long it took Disney to start dismantling the World of Motion and gut the building for Test Track.

 

The top picture was taken at 10:30pm on January 2nd, 1996 and the second was taken the very next morning at 9:00am on January 3rd.

 

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It was a slow moving omnimover type ride that took guests on a humorous trip through the history of transportation. It was the work of Walt Disney's famous animator Ward Kimball.

 

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sorry to rain on the parade, but I think TestTrack is better by a SLIGHT SLIGHT SLIM Margin. It's funny hoew it only took Disney a few hours to start dismantling the ride, but an extra 3 years to finnish it :P

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When they closed the ride on January 2nd they already had all the outside track erected including the high speed banked loop around the building less the sections directly in front of the World of Motion entrance. Construction was fast - testing and refining took years.

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World of Motion was great, it was a long ride so it was a good way to relax and there was always so much to see. As much as I love Test Track, it's something everyone in my family can't ride compared to World of Motion which everyone could. That's why I was even more upset after World of Motion got removed for Test Track and Horizons for Mission Space. I won't even ride Mission Space because seeing the sample cabin right away was enough to know it wasn't for me.

 

Plus World of Motion was always a walk on thanks to the high capacity compared to Test Track where unless you get to it early, even on a slow day it is a 40+ minute wait.

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From Screamscape:

Coming as no surprise at all, it seems that GM’s 10 year sponsorship contract for Test Track is coming to an end later this year. Even before the recession hit the automakers in the wallet, I was hearing for the past couple of years that GM was very unlikely to resign their deal with Disney. With the giant automaker relying on government aid to keep it’s doors open for the time being, renewing the deal is going to be a tough sell. Of course the most interesting item in the comes at the bottom, where they say that there has been some internal talk at Toyota over possibly jumping in to sign a deal with Disney for the attraction, though they would likely want to make a few changes.

 

all i have to say is i don't know :(

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World of Motion was great, it was a long ride so it was a good way to relax and there was always so much to see. As much as I love Test Track, it's something everyone in my family can't ride compared to World of Motion which everyone could. That's why I was even more upset after World of Motion got removed for Test Track and Horizons for Mission Space. I won't even ride Mission Space because seeing the sample cabin right away was enough to know it wasn't for me.

 

Plus World of Motion was always a walk on thanks to the high capacity compared to Test Track where unless you get to it early, even on a slow day it is a 40+ minute wait.

 

 

I agree with most of your post Yoshi, I have not been to EPCOT since 2000 so I have never ridden Mission Space but I have rode both Test Track and World of Motion. WOM > TT hands down!

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Horizons went on for a few years without sponsorship. It did mean the end of full year operations and then it closed due to a "sink hole." A new sponsor could mean improvements (Spaceship Earth) or the same old sponsor could mean disaster (Journey Into YOUR Imagination.) The ride seems popular enough to last quite a few years without "plussing."

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Journey Into Your Imagination was a disaster. I remember riding it on 2 different visits in 2000 and thinking how horrible it was and where was Figment? The newer Journey Into Your Imagination With Figment is a slight improvement but doesn't even compare to the original. I'd love to see them bring back Dreamfinder and the old ride.

 

Sad how Future World isn't really anything like it was when Epcot first opened and how it was in the 80's and early 90's. World of Motion and Horizons are gone, Wonders of Life is gone, The Living Seas has been taken over by Pixar (yes it is nice to have a ride back in the pavillion but I hate those computer generated Nemo characters), Figment is ruined, Living With The Land is now automated and the old song is gone, Kitchen Kabaret/Food Rocks is gone.

 

All that is left that hasn't changed that much is the Universe of Energy and Spaceship Earth (I know it got rennovated but from what I have seen it still the same type of ride experience).

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