General Motors reaping big rewards

As years go, 2013 was one of the most spectacular in history for General Motors and its racing programs.

Chevrolet captured manufacturers’ championships in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and the IndyCar Series and took home the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Prototype engine manufacturers’ championship. In the American Le Mans Series, Chevrolet claimed the GT manufacturers’ championship, and Corvette Racing won the GT team trophy — the second consecutive season for both. And, of course, Jimmie Johnson just locked up his sixth Sprint Cup title and the 11th for Hendrick Motorsports as a team.

Those successes help Jim Campbell sleep better at night. More importantly, they help auto racing continue to have strong support from the GM board of directors, and, ultimately, sell cars.

“Winning races and manufacturers’ championships and seeing our drivers accomplish winning championships in various series, it is a big proof point of the fact that we’re on the right track in terms of putting together a racing program from a technology, team and people perspective,” said Campbell, GM’s U.S. Vice President, Performance Vehicles & Motorsports, in an exclusive interview with “It is a successful formula.”

Through the first 10 months of the year, GM’s U.S. sales of cars and light-duty trucks are up 8.3 percent, including an impressive gain of 15.7 percent in October. “Chevrolet, Cadillac and Buick-GMC all performed well in the month, and the sales tempo really picked up after the government shutdown ended,” said Kurt McNeil, GM’s vice president for U.S. sales operations in a statement issued by the company.

Racing is one of several factors that have contributed to that success.

“When you win races and championships, it does lift the brand image,” said Campbell. “Lifting brand opinion is a difficult thing to do in a short amount of time, but winning races and championships helps us do that. And good things will follow, because those customers will put you on the shopping list more quickly if their opinion of you is higher. So that’s the connection to the business piece.”

NASCAR is GM’s biggest marketing stage for racing. The production version of the Chevrolet SS debuted at Daytona Speedweeks earlier this year, and Chevrolet has an aggressive at-track presence throughout the year.

“What we’re focused on is working hard to have a dialogue with customers we interface with at the race track, which is a very large number of people over the season,” said Campbell. “We have a dialogue with them on their terms — they only give us information if they want to. And they typically want more information about products and parts and services we provide. It’s our job to continue building that trust and getting on their shopping lists for a car, a part or a service.”

GM scaled back its racing expenditures after the company’s bankruptcy in 2009, but after successfully reorganizing, it’s still extremely active. NASCAR fans have viewed this year’s launch of the Generation-6 spec Sprint Cup cars very favorably.

“We’re looking at research that is available in the industry through NASCAR and other places where the move to the Gen-6 car — in our case, the Chevrolet SS — the connection point, the ability to relate, the relevance factor is up significantly,” said Campbell. “And the customer making the connection from the racetrack to the showroom is one way to drive the business. It’s a stronger connection point than it had been previously with the Gen-5. We’re excited about it and we know NASCAR is excited about it.”

It helps, too, that the relationship between NASCAR and the automakers has become more collaborative, especially in developing the Gen-6 cars.

“What that taught us, the benefits of it, the outcome of it, the high praise and excitement and acceptance, the visibility of our race cars has showed us what we can do collectively at NASCAR with the OEMs, with the race teams and other folks in the sport were able to grow a very popular product and build some strong relationships,” said NASCAR President Mike Helton.

So does the old auto racing axiom, “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday,” still apply?

Campbell said it does.

“It just depends which Monday, because the purchasing/decision-making process takes more than 24 hours for most customers,” he said. “And so, I think what it does, though, is it provides us attention. Ultimately, winning races and championships lifts brand opinion and that’s the connection point. When brand opinion increases, the correlation to people either putting us on their purchasing list or their shopping list is much higher.

“So the issue is, ‘Win on Sunday, sell on Monday,’ — It depends which Monday it is. It may be tomorrow, it may be next week, it may be next year.”

So after a stellar 2013 season, what’s next? According to Campbell, more of the same.

“You cannot let up a minute,” he said. “The competition is too intense. You have to stay right on top of all the engineering and technology to make sure we’re on the forefront of what we have to be working to help our teams and drivers win. What do we do for an encore is, you stay right at it, you work hard, and it’s all about preparation. You have to stay 10 steps ahead of where you are right now, so you can prepare for the upcoming season.”