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November 23, 2015

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Tracking performance at motor sports events

Motor racing is a platform to show off extreme vehicle performance and bull up branding.

Carmakers relegate their super cool cars to an elite group of drivers and engineers to test their limits. It’s all part of an effort to create hot brands that consumers worship.

Volkswagen Group China, which sells sports cars under five brands in China, is hoping this nation’s fanaticism for sports cars will spill over to its less “emotional” products. That gave one of its recent sports car events a highly passionate, contagious and yet collected aura.

The group hosted the first China Speed Weekend last month at the Shanghai Audi International Circuit, spotlighting its Volkswagen, Audi, Bentley, Lamborghini, Porsche sports cars and also Ducati motorbikes. Nonstop on-track shows and off-track promotions attracted more than 15,000 motor enthusiasts.

“Sports cars are something many people want to have,” said Dominic Lyncker, head of Volkswagen Group’s sports car, motorsport and car culture in China. “But they are not necessities. So we are talking about a slightly irrational product environment, which gives China Speed Weekend an emotional core.”

The event replaced the Volkswagen’s Sports Car Champion Festival that enjoyed three years of success in China. Besides the professional Lamborghini Super Trofeo Asia and the Formula Masters China racing series, the latest event offered more test drives of Volkswagen products and welcomed more local engagement, such as the performance by super car clubs, the Boss GT race and the Fast4ward Quarter Mile challenge. There was even a “racing” zone for kids.

The event was carefully designed to create a lifestyle atmosphere for people of all ages and backgrounds to interact with Volkswagen sports car brands, a hub of meaningful connections to be extended beyond the racetrack.

Given the limited daily practicability of sports car, it’s very likely that sports car customers own a second or third car, too. With an extensive portfolio of brands and products, Volkswagen now has the opportunity to keep such multi-car buyers within its product family. So the event is completely rational from the business perspective, said Lyncker.

However, China’s current economic slowdown and the government crackdown on ostentatious lifestyles pose problems for vendors of luxury goods.

The sports car sales environment is challenging, Volkswagen admits, but the group is still the market leader within its respective segments and it wants to keep that position.

“Driving a sports car is not about showing off,” said Lyncker. “It’s about taking responsibility, being an advocate for road safety, proving to people in everyday traffic that driving a true performance car requires maturity. With all that understood, you can take that car to an enclosed environment such as the Shanghai Audi International Circuit and have fun bringing out its full capabilities.”

Passion for commercial vehicles

Racetracks are not reserved for the ultra rich. They are also sites for truck drivers to have fun testing the limits of their cars for work.

The 7th Foton Ollin China Lemans Light Truck Contest, which attracted over 200,000 truck drivers around the country, held its finale this month at the Shanghai Tianma Circuit.

In a 15-hour race that allowed only changes of drivers but not cars, eight logistics teams selected from more than 200 applicants tried to balance speed with the ability of their Foton Ollin CTX trucks to run as long as they could.

On each lap, the truck needed to go through over 20 curves and change gears between high and low over a hundred times — a demanding task for a vehicle’s transmission system and also for the drivers.

“I felt absolutely confident of my vehicle after two days of practice,” said Xu Jincheng, a driver on a winning team from Jiangsu Province. “As the contest dragged on, my car and I increasingly became one.”

Targeting the mid- to high-end of the commercial vehicle market, domestic automaker Foton wants users and potential customers to see first-hand the worthiness of its products in actual performance. Since its beginning in 2008, the Foton Ollin China Lemans has attracted more than 1.5 million participants.

The 15-hour race this year bore testament to the Ollin CTX’s technical advancement and reliability meeting the National IV emission standard. It was also an opportunity to show off its latest upgraded National V version that cuts fuel consumption by 5-7 percent.

Improvement in fuel economy is expected to drive the Ollin product series into the No. 1 spot in their segment from 2015 to 2018, a period when China is expected to tighten emission standards for commercial vehicles.

“The Foton Lemans is a platform to combine product premieres, test driving and quality validation,” said Zhou Yejun, brand director and deputy manager of Foton’s light commercial vehicle marketing.

Making the event a show floor displaying Foton’s full line-up, the company tapped its latest Toano van to shuttle contenders and guests around. The competition itself was named the Toano Cup — another high-profile marketing of the car on top of its logistics services for foreign heads of state attending China’s military parade in September.

Foton regards motorsport events as an excellent way to raise its brand profile. Its Auman heavy-duty truck is a regular participant at such events and won the China Truck Racing tournament. Earlier this year, its Tuland pickup represented Foton as the first Chinese brand in the Dakar Rally, the world’s toughest off-road endurance race.

“And it is its Lemans light truck race that brings motorsport closer to ordinary drivers, making it increasingly a people’s sport in China,” Xian Tongchun, deputy secretary-general of the Federation of Automobile Sports of China, told Shanghai Daily.


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