Project Case Study: Projecting an image

September 2006 » Feature Articles
Designing and engineering a test track that showcases the SUV’s performance without leaving the confines of a dealership has created mountainous challenges for Hummer dealers.
Jacob Manthei

Hummer dealer's extreme test track features steep inclines and side slopes supported by big-block retaining walls

DETAILS
Project:
Hummer dealer test track, Baton Rouge, La.
Project engineer: Waskey Bridges, Baton Rouge, La.
Product application: A big-block, Redi-Rock retaining wall provides the framework for an off-road test track at a Hummer dealership.

From the mountains of Pakistan, to the hills of San Francisco, to the plains of Africa, General Motor's (GM) Hummer is a popular SUV. With its rugged, off-road capabilities and appealing design, Hummer sales have been robust. And while a test drive traditionally convinces a prospective buyer to purchase a vehicle, the Hummer line is taking the test drive concept to new levels, quite literally.

Hummer test track
The massive retaining wall blocks used to construct a test track reflects the Hummer's tough, off-road image

Designing and engineering a test track that showcases the SUV's performance without leaving the confines of a dealership has created mountainous challenges for Hummer dealers. According to GM, the test track can be built by using gravel, cinder, or even natural terrain. The incline and slope requirements provide for some interesting challenges for test track design and construction. Gerry Lane Hummer/Saab in Baton Rouge, La., looked at many solutions to building the most attractive and appropriate track, including a poured-in-place wall.

The dealership wanted to build a unique test track for prospective Hummer buyers that met GM's requirements to include a 60-percent incline and a 40-percent side slope. But this test track had to offer more than a typical test drive on an oval-shaped track. With slopes, slants, hills, rocks, and logs, Lane's track demonstrates how a Hummer can handle extreme road conditions, inclines, and terrains.

A poured-in-place wall would have been expensive and time-consuming to construct, and, perhaps most importantly, would not have been as eye appealing as other solutions. "We just weren't happy with the proposed look of the poured wall," said Eric Lane, owner of Gerry Lane Hummer/Saab. "When you're selling Hummers, image is everything. We needed a wall that was as unique as a Hummer itself."

"Hummer needed a massive look for its massive vehicle in a relatively confined space," said Tommy Roberts, project engineer for Waskey Bridges, a contractor in Baton Rouge that specializes in precast concrete applications. The firm introduced the Lane Hummer management team to the idea of building the track using Redi-Rock, a big-block wall solution developed by Redi-Rock International, Charlevoix, Mich. "I knew immediately that this project was going to be an opportunity to showcase some creative uses of the product," said Roberts.

Hummer test track

General Motor's specifications for Hummer dealer test tracks include a 60-percent incline and a 40-percent side slope

"Redi-Rock had the eye appeal that we were looking for," said Lane. Even the Redi-Rock caps for the freestanding walls have designer rock edges that compliment the high-end Hummer image.

The retaining wall products, weighing as much as 2,400 pounds or more, are designed to have both curb appeal and structural capability. In this project, Redi-Rock's retaining wall, freestanding products, and cap products were used. The retaining product was used to retain soil, the freestanding product was used as a guard rail, and the caps were used to further increase the aesthetic value of the structure.

"In this case, we know that every [Hummer dealer] track could be unique, while still meeting GM specs," said Ben Manthei, managing partner of Redi-Rock International. "Because Redi-Rock had never been used in this application, it was a challenge. But we knew the size of our product and the rugged, upscale look was a perfect match for the Hummer."

"The walls look like they were meant for this application," said Roberts. "We were creating mini, man-made mountains, and these blocks worked perfectly."

Freestanding, vertical retaining walls helped designers fit a 500-foot-long test track containing slopes, slants, rocks, and logs into a confined space

The completed track with Redi-Rock walls not only looked better than a poured wall, but also cost less because less time and fewer laborers were needed to build it. Mike Roher of Chambers Construction installed the wall with only six men. Using a track hoe, a dozer, and a rubber tire back-hoe, the crew completed construction in less than two months. The 500-foot test track was completed in May 2005.

"Our test track has a look that sets it apart from [dealers' tracks in] the rest of the country," Lane said. During the grand opening, people waited in line for four hours while four Hummers took people for rides on the track. An estimated 1,000 people tested the track that day.

"It really looks great at night," said Roberts. "They light the track up and park a Hummer on the inclines and it looks as though it's sitting on the side of a mountain. It's a great billboard for the dealership because it piques people's interest."

Most importantly, the test track has helped increase sales to nearly 60 Hummers per month. "The results speak for themselves," said Lane. "I just wish I had room to build another 500 feet of track."

Jacob Manthei is marketing director of Redi-Rock International, Charlevoix, Mich. He can be contacted at jake@redi-rock.com.


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