Hailed by educators and media alike, DaimlerChrysler’s Build Your Dream Vehicle program challenges high school students (grades 9 through 12) to create, design and present futuristic, environment-friendly concept vehicles – complete with three-dimensional models (or drawings) and marketing plans.  DaimlerChrysler’s integrated curriculum guides teachers and students in applying science, technology and design; time management; creativity; teamwork; oral presentation; and development of marketing strategies and financial statements.  In addition to successfully exposing high school students to automotive careers and educating consumers on the process of making cars and trucks, the program effectively communicates DaimlerChrysler’s commitment to education and school-to-work programs.
Since its start in 1994, Build Your Dream Vehicle has expanded to nine regional markets, boasting nearly 5,000 high schools student participants from across the country.  Now in its seventh year, the program continues to support DaimlerChrysler’s innovative design heritage and encourages future generations to invent imaginative and viable transportation solutions of their own.
In 1994, proprietary information from DaimlerChrysler’s human resources department showed that the talent pool of youth interested in automotive design was tapering off.  The growing number of high tech careers, and the new labels of “old” economy and “new” economy, were hindering the automotive industry’s recruiting efforts.  DaimlerChrysler saw this as an opportunity to educate students on careers in the automotive industry, the original high tech job, and champion automotive design as a competitive, comparable career. 
By 2000, the Build Your Dream Vehicle program had become a highly visible automotive education program, but feedback from educators indicated that students involved in the program wanted to compete at a national level and have the chance to visit an automotive manufacturer to see “the real thing.”
One of the challenges the program faced was generating interest among key audiences at the national level.  We overcame this by introducing the national finals competition for the first time this year in an effort to draw national attention and add credibility to the program.  Another challenge stemmed from the view that this program did not encourage diversity among its participants.  To overcome this, we showcased regional winners, which included students from all ethnic and economic backgrounds, at the national finals.  This enabled us to provide credibility to the program’s integrity by overcoming an image that only wealthy, suburban schools can compete and win such competitions.
The first step in creating a public relations strategy for the Build Your Dream Vehicle program was to create a strong media campaign.  Working from a budget of $290,000, DaimlerChrysler and Golin/Harris followed a strategic approach by creating and supporting regional competitions in nine markets, including Detroit, San Diego, Houston, Seattle, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, Washington, D.C./Baltimore and Atlanta.  This approach generated awareness on a local level and built momentum toward the program’s national finals.
For the first time in its seven-year history, the Build Your Dream Vehicle program developed a national finals competition for all regional winners, which was held at DaimlerChrysler’s North American headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich.  Allowing students to showcase their vehicles to a team of automotive experts, the national finals competition was a natural extension of the program, building upon DaimlerChrysler’s innovative design heritage and encouraging future generations to invent imaginative and viable transportation solutions of their own.
  • Elevate DaimlerChrysler’s image as a leader in innovation and education.
  • Generate positive local and national media coverage for the program and DaimlerChrysler’s efforts to encourage student creativity and ingenuity.
Target Audiences
  • High school students and their parents
  • Educators
  • General consumers
  • Media
Key Strategies
  • Educate students/consumers on future challenges of the automotive industry, balancing consumer, environment and economic goals.
  • Demonstrate DaimlerChrysler’s commitment to education and school-to-work programs.
  • Emphasize the program’s core values – innovation, teamwork, passion, and value – to reflect DaimlerChrysler’s style of business.
  • Maximize media coverage by creating localized media angles for regional competitions and securing national media coverage with the addition of the Build Your Dream Vehicle National Finals.
All tactics were built from previous years’ programs.  In addition to nine regional competitions, this year marked the first national finals competition, which invited each regional competition winner to DaimlerChrysler’s North American Headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich. to showcase their vehicles to a team of automotive experts.  A sampling of activities conducted to support the program include:
  • Media relations in nine regional markets to automotive, education and technology media.
  • Creating customized press kits for each local market.
  • Identifying regional DaimlerChrysler employees to serve as judges, spokespeople and “champions” of the program.
  • Working with schools and teachers to identify students that will discuss their career ambitions and the program with media.
  • Shooting video at regional competitions for local media, including student presentations and student/teacher interviews.
  • Conducting media relations for national finals, including pitches to national automotive, education and technology media.
  • Creating a video news release for the national finals competition.
  • Creating a video for the national finals and recruitment of new schools to the 2001 program.
DaimlerChrysler and Golin/Harris far exceeded all program objectives and expectations.  Build Your Dream Vehicle continues to be hailed by media and educators alike, providing an integrated curriculum that guides teachers and students in combining technological and automotive knowledge with interpersonal relationships to develop extensive concept vehicle design and marketing plans. 
Results include:
  • More than 100 story placements in lifestyle and business media in all nine markets, totaling more than 20 million media impressions.
  • Media placements in broadcast and print outlets nationwide, including local NBC, CBS and ABC affiliates in all nine markets, CNN, Baltimore Sun, Palm Beach Post, Los Angeles Times and
  • Chicago Tribune.
  • 100 percent of media coverage recognized this as a DaimlerChrysler venture.
  • 80 percent of all media coverage contained at least one of the key brand messages.