Bob Lutz is never short of an opinion, and when he expresses it, he usually isn’t short of an audience either.
The former General Motors senior executive has declared in the past that his onetime employer should have built the Chevrolet (Holden) Volt as a pickup rather than a premium hatch, and that electric vehicles will consign the petrol engine to the pages of history.
Now, Lutz has turned his attention to motorsport, declaring in a piece he wrote for Road And Track in the US that the sport has become a waste of money - at least for carmakers.
Lutz said he was once a “huge advocate” of manufacturer-sponsored race teams, singling out Opel models in the Monte Carlo Rally and the C3 Corvettes at Le Mans.
GM has always maintained a corporate stance against using its cars in competition, but Lutz said the company’s individual arms never had trouble finding ways around it.
The former exec declared “I hate racing, and I love it”, saying that the cost of competing at the top can no longer be justified.
Lutz pointed out experiences while working for Exide Technologies, saying the company was locked into NASCAR sponsorship that it could barely afford with the primary motivation being winning, the VIP feeling and being ‘wined and dined’.
Lutz said the old “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” adage was long dead, and that GM’s involvement in NASCAR during his time at the global carmaker failed to boost sales for the appropriate Chevrolet or Pontiac models - and it also wasn’t working for GM’s rivals.
“The parking lot of any major NASCAR race was filled with pickup trucks and RVs, but one looked in vain for Dodge, Ford, Pontiac, or Chevrolet cars,” Lutz said.
“To compound matters, media coverage was always focused on the driver, not the marque. Today, as a manufacturer, I would no longer spend the money - not on Formula 1 nor any other open-wheel series, the DTM, any sedan series, and most certainly not on NASCAR.”
Lutz said the value of motor racing as a demonstration of a carmaker’s abilities evaporated once competing teams were limited to the ‘same’ car.
Instead, he proposes a series that allows manufacturers to enter any vehicle and powertrain combination they like, as long as it can achieve an average of 20 MPG (14.1 l/100km) via a predetermined fuel load.
Perhaps Lutz is right: maybe it is time for a rethink of the major motorsport production categories.
In Australia, as elsewhere, carmakers come and go from the key categories. Our local V8 Supercars series looks set to lose factory-backed entries from Ford and perhaps Volvo in the future (the latter retreating from motorsport overseas).
Here, the Swedish brand's local arm continues to support its involvement with the V8 Supercars series.
"It is a really wonderful rallying point for our staff and our dealer network, who need the motivation and enthusiasm to continue to work the market,” Volvo Australia boss Kevin McCann told the V8Supercars.com.au website in November.
“Sport is really a big part of our [Australian] lives and, if we want to communicate with the Australian public, then sport is an ideal way to go.”
It is also true that a reimagined format planned for 2017 for the V8 series has found interest with other brands.
So, maybe a "waste of money" to some, is another's marketing opportunity.
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