NASCAR builds brand appeal
Execs: With TV exposure, we win even without taking the checkered flag
Photo credit: JOSH SCOTT PHOTO FOR AUTOWEEK
The Daytona 500 is set for Sunday, and executives from Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota racing divisions say nothing fires up an automaker's fan base and boosts its image among consumers more than a NASCAR victory.
But even without victory at Daytona, a brand gets exposure on one of TV's biggest stages. NASCAR's reach is second only to the National Football League's, so NASCAR is a prime launchpad, said Jamie Allison, director of Ford North America Motorsports.
Last year's Daytona 500 drew 13.7 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. In 2012, Sprint Cup races on broadcast TV averaged 7.3 million viewers, Nielsen found.
"Those that are prepared to go out and win consistently and win championships are those that reap the benefits of the attention and appeal of the fans," Allison said this month during the Autoweek Racing Conference. "We have fans that are emotionally connected to what happens on the track."
Allison said Ford used NASCAR to raise awareness of its EcoBoost engine technology, calling the races an effective way to highlight new technologies.
Toyota has noticed an uptick in purchase consideration since joining NASCAR -- first as a truck series participant in 2004 and later stock cars in 2007 -- as the Japanese company burns rubber with Ford and Chevrolet week after week, said David Wilson, senior vice president of Toyota racing development.
Fans have told Wilson that they visited Toyota dealerships for the first time after seeing the company's vehicles race.
Toyota is gaining respect among NASCAR fans, who now feel the company is "just one of us," Wilson said.
"Fans are going to root for Chevy, Ford or Toyota, but just because they may be rooting for a different brand, what we've come to understand and appreciate is that they respect our participation," Wilson said. "They ultimately see that we've helped their sport become a better sport."
Link to showroom
Another way to generate sales through NASCAR is to build a connection between the race cars and the retail vehicles in showrooms.
Chevrolet planned to use that strategy Saturday, Feb. 16, when it was to have unveiled the production version of the SS performance sedan at Daytona International Speedway before the Sprint Unlimited race.
The production model will have rear-wheel drive and a fuel-injected V-8 engine to mirror its racing counterpart, said Jim Campbell, Chevrolet's U.S. vice president of performance vehicles and motorsports.
Chevrolet hopes the 2014 SS, which will have a base price of $27,535, including shipping, can build excitement around the brand.
Winning is still important, too.
"Competing in motorsports, we do see that lift in image," Campbell said. Winning "the big races for championships says a lot about your brand and the integrity of your vehicle and the powertrain."
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