Here’s something that’s long overdue. The Associated Press today reports that General Motors is cutting back spending on NASCAR. It’s about time. Here’s a company in crisis that can’t afford enough advertising for its bloated family of eight brands, and they have been blowing more than $100 million a year on NASCAR.
Before I explain why I think GM has put too much into NASCAR, let me admit my bias. I hate NASCAR. While I can get into watching everything from Rugby Union and the NFL to golf and women’s tennis, I just can’t get into NASCAR. (As an aside, I can get into Le Mans series races) But as motor sports go, NASCAR races are the snooziest. The cars are slow and bumbling. The circuit strictly legislates body dimensions, chassis engineering and engine size so you don’t get new technology on the track. The cars still have carburetors and only recently got rid of leaded fuel! It’s yesteryear’s race cars running around in circles. A Luddite’s paradise. For more on the limits of NASCAR as a marketing tool, go to www.autoextremist.com and read Peter DeLorenzo’s Fumes column.
But my sports preferences aren’t the ones that matter here. For the Big Three, NASCAR speaks to the working class white guys who already love their trucks and suvs. It preaches to the choir. To the people on the coasts who drive Japanese and European cars, it affirms the red neck, Midwestern and unsophisticated image that most American brands carry. This will enrage some people. But it’s a commonly-held view among the cadre of consumers that don’t like American cars. I get their email and letters all the time. Foreign car owners trick out their Civics, fawn over cars like the BMW M3 and Audi S4 and watch Formula 1 and Le Mans series races. They think NASCAR is about as hip as Conway Twitty’s Greatest Hits.
Add in the fact that the coolest cars Detroit can come up with (save the new Cadillac CTS) are a retro-styled Mustang, a Dodge Challenger that’s a dead knock off of the car from the ‘60s and a Chevy Camaro that again reaches back to its muscle car roots, and the old school image is complete. To the sophisticated, technology-savvy buyer who left American brands years ago, NASCAR sponsorships and nouveau muscle cars affirm what they have long thought. These companies are stuck in the past.
GM is making the right move to pull back on NASCAR. The problem is that they’re doing it too late. GM needs to save money. It would have been better if they scaled back their stock car efforts year ago and put the money toward something that reached a different kind of buyer. Now it’s just a survival move.