The “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” mantra may not be quite as strong today as it was back in the 1960s, but automakers do continue to see the advantage of transforming the appeal of high-octane, high-speed motorsport into aspiration for their production models.
It’s not too surprising, then, that General Motors is looking to bolster the image of its European Opel and Vauxhall brands through additional race activities, possibly including a return to the World Rally Championship.
It has been over 20 years since GM backed a factory rally team (a youthful Walter Röhrl managed to win the 1982 WRC drivers championship behind the wheel of an Opel Ascona 400), but Nick Reilly, president of GM’s European operations, believes success and exposure in the world of rally racing could increase the brands’ appeal to younger buyers.
“Sport is an important area, and to me, a car company ought to be able to compete,” said Reilly. “It’s very significant to us, the brand image, and in our view it’s not as strong as the product. We’re winning lots of awards but Opel and Vauxhall probably don’t command the prices they deserve.”
Rally is certainly one avenue GM Europe may pursue, but the company could potentially have an easier time expanding its touring car race operations. Officials believe such racing would be financially cheaper than a WRC entry, and the recent success of the Chevrolet Cruze (incumbent World Touring Car Championship champion) could give the European brands more incentive to enter such series.
Either Vauxhall or Opel could potentially compete in the WTCC, but Opel is possibly considering a return to the DTM series after a prolonged absence. Vauxhall is also mulling continuing to field entries in the British Touring Car Championship — after all, the factory works team managed to snatch both driver’s and constructor’s cups in the series last year.
All of this sounds plenty enticing, but there’s one big hurdle to clear: funding. GM Europe has been extremely tight on cash, and with a loss of about $1.9 billion tallied so far in 2010, Reilly says the motorsport ventures won’t be green-lit without the a stable fiscal foundation in place. For now, we can only wait to see if the Opel and Vauxhall crests indeed return to the race track.
Source: Automotive News (Subscription required)