The idea that drivers could race cars not much different from what the consumer could buy from a local dealer has evolved, and today, NASCAR is a multibillion dollar business. During its growth years, the phrase, “Win on Sunday, buy on Monday,” motivated American car manufacturers on the track. If Richard Petty won in a Ford, Dale Earnhardt Sr. in a Chevrolet, you or I could go to our local dealer and buy a car that resembled it.
But the times, they are a changing.
The days of suburban driveways filled with four-door sedans and coupes are quickly fading. SUVs and crossovers, along with hybrids are outselling what we once knew as traditional cars.
Ford Performance gets plenty of television air time on Sundays with its NASCAR Ford Fusion.
So, is NASCAR still relevant to manufacturers? Stock cars, after all, are just that: cars, four wheels, four doors. And that’s what races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series. But with the advent of the SUV and crossover, does “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” still apply?
Seeing three top auto executives share a stage is about as rare as seeing snow in Miami. Think Russia getting together with France and both inviting China.
But it was in Miami a day before the NASCAR championship finale that three executives sat on a stage and answered questions from the media, including whether NASCAR still matters.
Jim Campbell, Chevrolet U.S. vice president of performance vehicles and motorsports said that racing, in general, is great for the company, but not in the way it once was.
“When you have a chance to win races and vie for championships, it does lift what people think of Chevrolet,” he said. “We do see more people put Chevrolet on their shopping list that are fans in the motorsports category. NASCAR is one of them. Chevrolet is involved in five major series. Some of our sister divisions are in racing as well in the company.”
Toyota is betting that back-to-back Monster Energy Cup Series manufacturer championships will lead to more foot traffic in its showrooms.
Dave Pericak is the global director of Ford Performance. He said it’s less about selling an actual car and more about educating those who watch NASCAR.
“What we’re creating by what we’re doing are brand ambassadors for the entire brand,” Pericak said. “Everyone wants to be part of a winning team. They want to know that the car company they’re investing in is successful and that they have great engineering and whatnot. We are creating, again, those brand ambassadors.”
Ed Laukes is the group vice president of marketing for Toyota Motor North America.
“We’ve seen evolution before,” he said. “This car-based SUV thing, getting up in the 65 percent range with car-based SUVs. There will have to come a time when it’s going to level off. I think Dave is absolutely right. We’ve had those conversations many times in the past collectively; the affinity for the brand gets built around the racing program.
“It works very well for us,” he added. “When we started in Cup in 2007, amongst NASCAR fans, our brand affinity was 15 percent, now it runs about 65 percent. It works.”
So it’s the stories the manufacturers are selling, the branding, not simply the car that is racing on the track.
(The story) does touch on all the different new entries, whether it’s the new Equinox, Traverse, pickup entry,” Campbell said. “We have in our midway; you’ll see us with the Volt and Bolt, which has a 238 nominal range with one charge. Amazing technology. The industry is moving very quickly.
“We’ll always use it as a platform to tell our entire story … Cars, crossovers and trucks, parts and accessories is what we focus on in our midways but also online.”
Motorsports, then, is very important to the auto industry, but now the focus isn’t just on the car but on the experience and educating the fan, creating that brand ambassador.
“They’re delivering the message that we want them to deliver,” Pericak said. “It does work for us quite well.”
Will it always be that way? Or might motorsports be left behind in the future by the automakers?
“I think, as we see the world change, I think motorsports are going to obviously change as well,” Pericak said. “I think we’ll keep pace with everything that’s going on in the industry.”