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Friday, 20 October 2017 10:44

Analysis: Supercars’ relevance to manufacturers

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The three models of cars being raced in Supercars – the Holden VF Commodore, Ford FG X Falcon and Nissan Altima – are no longer manufactured and/or sold in showrooms in Australia.

Holden has closed its manufacturing plant in Australia, moving from the locally-produced VF Commodore to the imported ZB Commodore. The Ford FG X Falcon finished production last October with the closure of Ford's local factory. And Nissan no longer imports the Altima into Australia.

"We have always prided ourselves on being relevant," Supercars CEO James Warburton told V8X Supercar Magazine in issue #99. "I don't think anyone in the category thinks that (having FG X and Altima on the grid) would be a good idea beyond next year."

Supercars' popularity in Australia was based on the close link between the cars that raced and those sold in the marketplace, especially the locally-produced Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore. The V8-era technical regulations were created to fit the Falcon and Commodore.

Enticing manufacturers to a unique motorsport category based in a marketplace as small as Australia is one of the biggest challenges facing Supercars. This, as we've detailed extensively in recent issues, comes at a time when manufacturers can sell road-relevant cars to race in GT categories/events worldwide for minimal costs.

With manufacturers hard to come by, all eyes are on Holden as the first manufacturer to commit to the Gen2 rules and a technical platform away from the V8 engine.

Factory team Triple Eight Race Engineering will introduce the new-imported Commodore, based on the European-designed Opel Insignia sedan, as a Supercar next season powered by the current V8 engine. The new V6 twin-turbo engine will be run at selected events in 2018 before a full introduction in 2019.

This change comes at a time when Holden is preparing for life as an imported car brand with debates around the marketing of the brand.

Recent changes in its marketing approach have called into question just what level Holden will leverage its Supercars involvement at a time when the brand tries to increase its appeal to a wider audience away from its traditional demographics.

"We have a long and proud heritage in Australia but there is a deep perception of the brand," says Holden's general manager of marketing, communications and digital, Natalie Davey.

"I grew up with Holden — the V8 Supercars, Bathurst, the utes and Commodores. We have all grown up with the Holden of yesterday and it's not something we can brush off overnight.

"We know changing perception is a long-term plan but we want to evolve to include all audiences. This isn't about not wanting our loyal customers anymore. We want to build that appeal beyond the heartland."

However, some have questioned whether Holden has moved too far away from its heartland. And for Holden's Supercars fans, that includes whether the brand should've retained the Commodore name on a front-wheel-drive imported design that will race without a V8.

According to executive director of marketing, Mark Harland, Holden has fallen to an "all-time low" in terms of brand appeal.

"Everyone said, 'We got to move away. We can't be just talking about V8 Commodores and the guys who drive V8 Commodores and we've got to go all the way over here and just talk to 20-year-old females.'

"I'd say at times we swung the pendulum too far. The thought is right but the execution was wrong. We can't completely walk away from the people that have been with us forever."

Other manufacturers will keep a close eye on Holden's approach to its Supercars involvement entering this new era as a gauge for whether the series is still relevant to selling cars.