Mercedes-Benz World, the new multi-million pound brand experience centre being developed at the historic Brooklands racing circuit close to London, will be the largest of its kind in Europe - and the only one with track facilities, writes Chris Wright.

Customers, current and potential, will be able to put vehicles through their paces on a variety of handling courses when the centre opens in October.

Visitors to Mercedes-Benz World will enter an experiential and interactive world that immerses them in the passion, heritage, values and innovation of the German brand. 

Not only will visitors be able to see every car and every colour in the range, but they'll also be able to book driving experiences on the handling circuits (including a wet skid circle and a 10-acre off road course); experience what it's like to 'be' a C-Class on its journey of creation through the factory in a simulated ride and hear the fascinating stories that have placed Mercedes-Benz at the cutting edge of motoring and motor racing history.

There'll also be a five star restaurant, a café, boutiques, and a dedicated 'kids zone' including safe, supervised and fun activities such as an interactive problem solving lab.  Children over 1.5 metres tall will be able to try their hand behind the wheel of a funky Smart Fortwo - the iconic city car. 

Peter O'Halloran, managing director of Mercedes-Benz World said he was looking to attract the 300,000 visitors a year.  The 155-acre Mercedes-Benz World site is surrounded by the history of the Brooklands racing circuit.

Brooklands was the very first racing circuit built in the UK in 1907 and the track has witnessed some of the most significant moments in motor racing history including Mercedes winning the first race, the first world land speed record in 1909 and the fastest flying mile in a modified 'Lightning' Benz in 1913.

Journalists were given a preview of the centre when it was used as the backdrop for the UK launch of new generation E- and GL Class models. Dermot Kelly, Mercedes-Benz UK managing director said:  "It is the perfect site for the brand. Brooklands and Mercedes-Benz are intrinsically linked through history - Mercedes-Benz World will re-ignite this connection and bring many significant moments from motoring and aviation history to a much wider audience.

"You can't have an experience without being involved in some way - and it's the involvement that sets this latest Mercedes-Benz experience centre apart from the large showrooms of other car marques."

Kelly said he spent some time researching sites for Mercedes-Benz World. "The obvious site for such a centre was close to a major city, in the case of UK that narrowed it down to London, Manchester or Birmingham.

"London was the obvious choice and it also meant that we could take the pressure off the dealer network in terms of having to invest in expensive real estate in the area."

The site at Brooklands had been derelict for some time and Kelly said the new centre would rate as highly as the Toyota and Subaru customer experience centres in Japan.

"If you are going to go for something, you go for the big idea," he said.

In the UK Mercedes-Benz directly owns around one third of its network. And of the 158 sites within it there are only 24 'owners'.

"That means we can literally all get round one table and discuss what we need to be doing with the brand. There was a lot that needed doing as well because we had been losing ground to BMW and Audi in the UK. Our 24 partners have between them invested between GBP400m and GBP500m in the past few years and with that level of commitment we need to work closely with them.

"Mercedes-Benz World is designed to help our dealer partners in terms of generating interest in the brand."

Chris Wright