Camp Jeep and Jeep 101

Recently, DaimlerChrysler Corporation has been using off-road Jeep events as a promotional and marketing tool. Camp Jeep and Jeep 101 are two such examples. The experience has been eye-opening both to newly converted Jeep buyers and longtime DaimlerChrysler employees.

"There's no way I'm going over this boulder." That's what Lou Bitonti kept thinking when he attended a Jeep Jamboree on the Rubicon Trail, in the early 1990s. Recently assigned to Jeep Division, Bitonti enjoyed the experience enough to start thinking about a new event. He came up with Camp Jeep.

Dating back to 1953, the Jeep Jamborees were "probably the first owner loyalty programs," recalled Bitonti, now senior manager of Jeep brand global marketing. Camp Jeep, which began in 1995, was expected to expand the off-roading experience to an even broader audience of loyal owners.

"We know who we are," Bitonti said in an interview, and what the Jeep brand means. While deciding what Camp Jeep would consist of, they kept asking themselves one important question: "Is this something Jeep can do?" Is it appropriate for the Jeep experience?

Initially set up at Camp Hale, Colorado, which had been the headquarters of the 10th Mountain Division during World War II, Camp Jeep consisted of 25 trails, color-coded by difficulty like ski runs. Seeking to provide a "peak experience," organizers sought ways to "take somebody out of the comfort zone," so that person accomplishes more than he or she would have thought possible. Blending fun and education, participants learn to drive safely off-road.

Driving isn't the only outdoor activity. Each day could include hiking, biking mountain climbing, crafts, mountain boarding. Photographers from National Geographic might show camera bugs how to shoot in a professional manner. Organizers are always trying something new. In 2000, Camp Jeep had remote-control airplanes as well as a sizable group of historic Jeeps.

"Anybody who comes to Camp Jeep should be able to participate in 70 percent of the activities," Bitonti advised. "When that baby closes at 6 o'clock, they're exhausted."

Now taking place at Charlottesville, Virginia, Camp Jeep is very family oriented. Among the more than 8,000 people who attended the three-day event in 2000, a thousand were under 10 years of age. In the evenings, Camp Jeep has featured such entertainers as Kenny Loggins and Sheryl Crow.

For DaimlerChrysler Corporation, Camp Jeep has been an "opportunity to meet with the owners, one-on-one," Bitonti said. Engineering Roundtables are the first events people sign up for when they make plans to attend. "We teach them as much as we can," Bitonti added, noting that it's necessary to explain exactly why engineers came up with this suspension, or that steering gear. Only Jeep owners are invited to attend.

Not long after Camp Jeep got underway, the company came up with Jeep 101. instead of inviting people to the canyons, they would bring the canyons -- or at least, a smaller-scale representation of them -- to urban areas around the country. Drivers in this program would have a trainer in the car. Off-road courses are "safe but also somewhat challenging," Bitonti said.

Invited to Jeep 101 are owners who are coming out of leases, or have had their vehicles longer than three years. Owners of competitive vehicles are also invited to attend. Jeep 101 has been fully attended in each of the dozen or so cities where it's held each year.

DaimlerChrysler Group also participates now, setting up a mini proving ground for the company's regular passenger cars. DaimlerChrysler also continues to host more than 30 two-day Jeep Jamborees each year, at various off-roading sites in North America.

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