For quite some time I have been an advocate of NASCAR speaking with other “foreign” manufacturers about the possibility of them entering the sport. I was delighted this weekend to hear from Brian France that in fact the sport has been engaged, if even just preliminarily, in those discussions.
Obviously with the pullback of funding by General Motors, Chrysler and Ford in the last year this issue has become particularly pertinent. While they are indeed pulling back, the executives at all of these companies have maintained the marketing efforts are still worthwhile for them.
I read a comment on a story questioning why any manufacturer would want to enter the sport. The fact of the matter is, if this weren’t making these companies money and showcasing their product to their key demographic, they wouldn’t continue their participation.
While I can’t say I am the biggest advocate of the “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” mantra, I do think there is a lot of value in this sport for these and other manufacturers. As much fun as all this may be, none of these companies are in the charity business (you might argue they are in the business of accepting charity; that’s another issue though). If they were losing money on their marketing efforts in the sport believe they wouldn’t be spending as much as they do.
Take Toyota as an example. When they entered the sport several years ago, I recall hearing an executive say they were not in the sport to sell the Camry; it was already the best selling car in America. Instead they were here to market their line of pickups. They were interested in competing with Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge. I don’t have sales figures in front of me, so I can’t tell you how successful that has been, but Toyota must find some value in the sport because they have continued to ramp up their support through the years.
This value they have found within the sport has to look appealing to other’s considering making the jump. While I won’t speculate which companies are considering this, let’s look at some companies who are eligible to compete.
Honda is the most obvious and most commonly brought up contender to join NASCAR. They have been active in F1 (though they have sold their interests there), IRL, ALMS and many other racing series. Honda Racing executives in the past have openly discussed their lack of interest in the sport despite the obvious marketing advantages. In 2005 Honda’s then racing chief Robert Clarke thinly mocked NASCAR’s requirement of a push-rod engine.
“The technical side of racing is very appealing to Honda,” Clarke added. “There has to be opportunity for actually achieving something. Taking a production engine and turning it into a racing engine, that’s beating your head against the wall and that’s not appealing to us. You have to feel you can actually achieve something from the exercise. So having rules that were more open and contemporary would be what we were looking for. But I’m not sure that’s what NASCAR is about.”
With Clarke now retired since early last year though, it would be interesting to see where they stand on the issue today.
Another obvious and often named contender is Hyundai. They build their mid-size Sonata sedan in a plant in Montgomery, Ala. The sport has to look attractive to Hyundai. NASCAR’s demo fits right in line with their own and as they look to take up more of the US market share, they have to be considering new ways to market their product.
The big problem with Hyundai is their lack of any real assemblage of motorsports involvement. It is unclear whether Hyundai would be willing to put out the money for development of an archaic engine for the sport.
Nissan could also consider entry into the sport, but their limited involvement in motorsports around the world makes me wonder how much value they put in this type of marketing effort. While Nissan and Hyundai are both older companies, they seem to have very different goals. You would think if they were interested in motorsports they would have gotten involved (more heavily than they have) somewhere by now.
A couple of other names tossed out are BMW and Mercedes-Benz. I saw today on ESPN that their insider section had a rumor about BMW talking to NASCAR. While these are two companies with roots firmly in racing, it doesn’t really make sense to me why either of them would want to be involved in NASCAR. Let’s be honest, the NASCAR crowd is not a BMW or MB crowd. Consider that the average BMW buyer pulls in $149,000 per year and the average Mercedes Benz buyer makes $163,00 per year. Only 16% of NASCAR’s fans make over $100,000. Unless these automakers are hoping to attract their core demographic to the sport (which seems useless), it really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for them to spend the money on entry. But I guess you never know.
I think as Mr. France made clear, these efforts are a long way off. Though I think the possibility of a new manufacturer entering the sport is an exciting one. I know there are many out there that disagree with me, but in an increasingly globalized world, and increasingly diverse sport why not welcome a new company with open arms, even if they do have a funny name.