Volume II, Issue 3, Page 2

NASCAR Becomes A Car Manufacturer

Even though I’m in my early 50s, I don’t think I’m a racing mossback; in fact, in the great demographic lookup tables being used to sell to every American, I’m an early adopter of some technologies – particularly computers. [On the other hand, I’m stuck in 2.0 channel audio and mostly vinyl records.] But I have to say that NASCAR’s Car of Tomorrow (COT) coming on-track in a couple of weeks at Bristol, and for 18 races in 2007 and then full-time later, would send shivers down my marketing spine if I were a car manufacturer. I’d be re-thinking why I am in the Cup series.

NASCAR has effectively become a competing car manufacturer with the COT, and displaced the auto manufacturers in their Cup series. Incredibly, and it is a tribute to its equally incredible marketing clout, NASCAR hasn’t had to pay the fundamental costs to become a car manufacturer – the current car manufacturers have borne them all! How trick is that!? It should be made a Harvard business school case study.

Now, admittedly, NASCAR has taken 50 years to build up their top Cup series – with the mighty help of the production auto manufacturers technical and PR departments, and Winston’s too, along the way – and they have invested in tracks, etc. via the ISC branch. So today, if you want to play on their televised nationwide racing turf, you are going to do so by their rules. But with the COT you are now going to use their bat – not one you made and brought and sell (to mix metaphors as much as possible).

Now, if you are a bat salesman, what is the use of this? Your bat looks like NASCAR’s bat, not the one you market.

Yes, we’re hearing all about the factory-based safety advancements, etc. of the COT. Every one of them could have been done to the previous, well-sorted chassis. I think that inflicting the COT body shape on the auto manufacturers will now completely  strip the brand identity off one of the primary reasons a production car manufacturer goes racing anyway – to move the metal (bats) out of dealer showrooms. How the COT is going to do that is beyond my meager Marketing 101 awareness, I guess.

I’m old enough to remember when I could see a NASCAR Cup car on-track and find a near-silhouette of that car in a local dealer showroom. That was brand identity at its basic, and I believe, most enduring. The COT, with its front air splitter and rear wing, looks like a tired and pretender Japanese car of today. They can even be found here in the epicenter of the tech and teams of NASCAR-Land -- Kannapolis, NC. Are the marketing mavens at the Big 3 and Toyota betting the racing farm on the fast & furious “urban” crowd to get them to think about their brands when they finally get old enough to buy their models?

Now, I understand that NASCAR Cup racing has been built more on personality than production cars for many years; that “activation” and entertaining dealers and assorted fans by attending the spectacle of a Cup race is beneficial for getting a buyer to think of your brand; that broadcasting enough NASCAR TV programming to blind and numb a viewer into buying submission may even be worthwhile; that competition between Car B trying to pass Car A in front doesn’t rely on specific branding, and that the “throw-off glow” of winning on Sunday can help sell on Monday (still).

But, unless there are going to be a bunch of Impala SS production cars with front air splitters (yeah, they’re practical in the real world) and high-mounted adjustable rear wings (can someone remember how long Mopar SuperBirds sat on dealer lots?) – then why participate at the cost you have to invest in a series where your fundamental sales product has so minimally to do with the racing? Maybe NASCAR is going to start opening up COT dealerships.

Otherwise it would seem to me, if you are a car manufacturer there are now better auto racing places to invest your millions – like local drag strips – to move the metal.  


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