I’ve been involved in 2 different, but not entirely exclusive discussions today; one comparing the original NSX with the new, 2016 model, and one about the ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday’ mentality and whether motorsport still influences vehicle sales today.
The general consensus is that for 99% of the buying public, motorsport has absolutely zero influence on whether or not they buy a car. There also seems to be a general thought that cars like the new Honda NSX and Ford GT are only hyped because of their predecessors – if the original never existed, never won races etc, the new ones would be ‘just another supercar being built alongside Honda Ballades and Ford Fiestas’.
But I have a thought… Maybe ‘Win on Sunday, sell on Monday’ doesn’t apply anymore, but is it not a case of ‘Win in 1960, sell in 2016’? Cars that revive historical nameplates or continue a long line of naming heritage (Golf, 3 Series, Ford GT, Honda NSX, etc) seem to sell huge volumes, and they use their historical wins and achievements to market their vehicles – and to great effect. In my mind these cars seem to do far better than their counterparts that currently dominate motorsport.
Take Audi for example. Although dominant in Le Mans and DTM, and selling well across the globe, their target markets don’t care, or even know about their current motorsport achievements. Sure, we know about their legendary rally heritage – they shove the original S1 quattro down our throats to try and brag about their AWD systems, but does anyone that buys an Audi actually care? Half their cars sold nowadays are FWD anyway! They don’t have homologation specials anymore – no halo car that makes you feel like a part of something greater when you buy an entry level model that shares tech with a race-winner – and for a team so dominant in Le Mans using hybrid diesel power, we hardly see anything spectacular from their road-going diesel variants. Don’t even get me started on DTM – Audi DTM cars are RWD and barely share a single resemblance to a road going car other than the name and a headlamp design hint.
BMW are the same, MINI included. The winning Dakar Rally MINI is loosely based on a BMW X3 platform; only built almost entirely for the Dakar with little to no road-going technology actually included in the race car. They win, people brag, but does anyone actually care about this when buying a MINI? Does this victory make people walk into a dealership and spend their hard earned cash?
Back in the 1990s, Opel had a huge market share in SA. You could buy an Astra or Kadett 140i and know that a large percentage of what you were driving was being used on the racetrack in the form of the Superboss to take on BMW M3s. The homologation models were halo cars; they made you feel like your econobox was of real racing pedigree, and that’s because it was! Don’t get me started on the Astra 200ts – a car with a cult-following amongst Opel-fans that’s second to none.
Nowadays, we don’t have the same homologation specials we used to have. DTM cars are built on race-spec space-frame chassis components with specialised engines and suspension systems. Race cars engineered from road cars are being forced to drop off the scene entirely because they can’t get sponsors – nobody cares about racing anymore, you see.
Formula 1 is perhaps the one area of motorsport that still garners some attention with regards to brands. Renault are proud to claim their links to Formula 1 as inspiration for their road cars, and yes there is a trickle of tech that runs through to the cars we see on the road every day – but it takes a long time to genuinely do so, sometimes decades. Yet, Renault will boldly claim the Clio turbo with its 900cc 3-pot uses Formula 1 turbo-technology. I call bullshit. Not that it matters though, no one cares about modern motorsport – it has almost zero influence on their daily commute.
Likewise with Mercedes-Benz; although with a slightly different mentality towards the way they market their F1 involvement. They were dominant in the 2014 Formula 1 season, they bragged on every social media account, billboard, and newspaper they could get their ads into – good for them! They did well and deserve to brag about their achievements. I have great respect for them that they didn’t start bragging that every A Class, with its front-wheel drive and engines shared with 10 year old Nissans, is a ‘race-bred machine for the road’. But, does anyone really care about Formula 1? Is anyone going to walk into a Mercedes-Benz showroom and say, “Take my money and give me a Merc because Lewis Hamilton won the 2014 Driver’s Championship”. The answer is no. Regardless, Mercedes still sell millions of cars globally, yet that emotion attached to historical achievements on the track is now missing.
On a semi-related side note, Datsun have recently had a social media post or two bragging about the GO’s 1.2-litre engine with ‘race car engine technologies’. Now unless they mean race-car technologies from 40 years ago, they’re trying to use motorsport as a marketing tool and doing a poor job of it. But enough about Datsun, they have more important issues than their social media posts.
I may seem like I’m ranting with no point, but hear me out, I’m trying to build a case here. Perhaps manufacturers are going about things all wrong. We can agree that: 1) motorsport is entertaining, 2) there is an eventual trickle of racing technologies that will affect our daily-drivers, even if it is in 20 years, and 3) there is a certain prestige and pride that comes from driving something you know has just dominated a race series.
But by letting motorsport die in various ways; by not building homologation cars, or by masking highfalutin technologies with plastic body shells that look like production models (Yes you, Dakar MINI); manufacturers are shooting themselves in the foot, and killing off their very source of future technologies in the public eye. Not only are they missing out on the ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday’ effect, but they’re robbing us of halo cars we petrolheads yearn for.
We buy daily drivers and feel nothing for them – they’re no longer part of something more prestigious. We’ve lost pride in what we drive because it has no real claim to fame. Nameplates like the NSX and Ford GT will sell faster than they can be produced, but an Opel Astra OPC? Well it won’t sell as fast as it would if it were called the 2015 Opel Astra Superboss…
Maybe they should revive old nameplates more, build modern homologation legends as halo cars, and continue the legacy of already established vehicle monikers, through racing and road production. Maybe there’s a new ideology at play, one that Ford and Honda have unwittingly tapped into – ‘win in 19XX, sell in 2016’, and it’s one that other manufacturers would do well to imitate.
The ‘win on Sunday’ ideology might be dead, but it doesn’t need to be, and neither does motorsport.