Times have changed, but Chevy still believes NASCAR helps sell cars
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Chevy believes that wins by drivers like Jimmie Johnson still translate into vehicle sales in the showrooms.
The saying “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” has long been the thought process of the major auto manufacturers. Otherwise, why would they spend so much money being involved in motorsports?
In recent years, though, with the cars looking so little like actual street cars, whether winning actually translates to vehicle sales has been a been a hot topic of debate, with many people saying that era has long passed and the two are no longer related.
I recently had a conversation with Terry Dolan, Manager of Chevy Racing, and he said that while the game has changed quite a bit, there is no doubt that the brand’s efforts in NASCAR and other forms of motorsport do pay off in the long run.
He said that while it’s might not be as instant as the old adage would indicate, he still believes the NASCAR program helps Chevy sell cars.
“The model has changed over the years. We don’t immediately see an inflow of fans to our dealerships to buy new vehicles. What they give us is credibility to market to fans attending to the events,” he said. “About 8 million fans attend races through the year, and we put out what I like to call an auto show in a state fair environment at the track, with our products on display. Fans can take a test drive in a Corvette or Camaro, they can take it on a lap through the infield of Indianapolis and experience the product without leaving the infield. We can get on their shopping list for purchase long-term. That’s how the model has shifted.”
The idea of “factory support” from the manufacturers is also evolving, he explained, and it’s not necessarily the same for every team.
“There are a lot of variations of the definition. What we bring to the teams is a lot of technology help. That varies depending on the series and type of racing we’re involved in,” he explained. “Things like engineering expertise we can help offer to a team to improve their performance. There is chassis work, data acquisition software, aerodynamics help … Think of that as a toolbox of items. And the GM racing engineers, the experts, go into the toolbox to supplement a team’s existing engineering knowledge to help form a championship team hopefully.”
Dolan also said that the goal of manufacturers is to get fans to identify with the product, and winning NASCAR races is a good way to do that.
“The fans identify with our drivers, teams and products, and they identify us as winners. If I try to sell a vehicle to someone who loves tennis, I’m intruding on why they’re there -- to watch tennis. But if I do it to a motorsports fan, it’s part of the experience.”
The drivers are key to getting fans to be fans of Chevy vehicles, and some go even farther than just talking about the brand.
“They’re all powerful ambassadors. The comments they make resonate with the fan base. But what’s important isn’t necessarily that they comment their Chevy was good on the track. It’s important for them to believe in the brand, and use it on a regular basis,” Dolan said. “Many are passionate about our cars and collect Chevy vehicles. And some are even dealers of Chevys … Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Terry Labonte. Rick Hendrick began in the business selling Chevrolets.”
Regarding the whole issue about cars looking less and less like street cars in recent years, there has been some talk of the Camaro, with its unique, recognizable design, becoming the model of choice for Chevy in the Nationwide series, and possibly Cup in the future. (Personally, I’d love to see it happen, as soon as possible.)
Dolan said Chevy is discussing possible use of the Camaro in the future, but nothing has been decided.
“We want the Camaro to be involved in motorsports. It’s in the Grand-Am series now,” Dolan said. “What’s important is we maintain the iconic lines of the vehicle. It’s very identifiable. We want to make sure we’re able to maintain that as we adapt it to motorsports entries. We want to maintain the iconic look.”
Dolan said there is less support from the top in the Nationwide and Truck series, but that doesn’t mean those series are ignored.
And while focusing on the big Chevy teams, efforts are made to get more teams up to that top level of racing, often by hooking them up with bigger teams like Hendrick or RCR to get engines, for example.
“At series below, they may have different needs. We have to do what’s right for the organization to reach out primary goal … to use racing to sell cars and trucks. We want to race to win, or it doesn’t make sense for us to participate,” Dolan said. “We want to make sure the audience aligns with the Chevrolet brand, and there has to be a business benefit involved. When you take different series, we have to do determine if it’s a wise use of resources.”
In the long run, Dolan said, the reason NASCAR is solid investment for Chevy is the wide scope of the sport.
“The important part of NASCAR is the scale and reach. If you look at the schedule, they span from February to November, South to North, East to West. It gives us the opportunity to reach our consumers from all of our regions all year. It’s a powerful package.
Help build your own Corvette
On a non-NASCAR note, Chevy is offering a unique opportunity to customers who plan to purchase the 2001 Corvette Z06 or ZR1, as they will have the option to help assemble their cars’ LS7 or LS9 engines at the GM Performance Build Center in Wixom.
“When you get into sportscars, the owner base spends a lot of time building a pedigree for their car. So we thought a natural extension was to offer owners a chance to literally work with the production team that assembles the engine for the Corvette,” Dolan said. “They can work with one of the builders out in Wixom, contribute to the assembly process.”
For more information, see facebook.com/corvette.
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