Blog: Does motorsport make the Cruze a winner?
Glenn Brooks | 19 July 2011
The Cruze has won 13 out of 14 races in 2011
I spent the weekend at a variously soaked and sunny Donington circuit in the English Midlands, attending the UK round of the World Touring Car Championship. At this point I must declare that Chevrolet UK's press budget took care of feeding and accommodating me but no-one from GM sought to shepherd me and my paddock pass away from the rival SEAT Leóns, BMW 320 TCs or sole Volvo C30 that I spent some time looking at.
The engine formula in the WTCC fascinates me in that the SEATs are powered by a 2.0-litre turbodiesel (and the cars at Donington, which were covered in branding for a Russian oil major, puffed out noticeable black smoke as they pursued the leaders), while the Chevrolets have a 1.6-litre petrol turbo under their bonnets. It seems to work as the racing was amazingly close and there was lots of car contact as positions changed constantly. Oh, and the increasingly competitive C30 set tongues wagging by being fastest in the warm-up on Sunday morning.
In the end, it was yet another pair of wins for the Chevrolet Cruze factory team. This, the UK-based operation can add to victories earned earlier in the year at circuits in Brazil, Hungary, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Italy and Portugal. The championship has 24 races in all and after two further rounds in Europe will come races in Japan and China with the finale to be held in Macau in November.
So what to make of all this? Well, the big question must be, does this kind of global formula work at selling cars? That's hard to say but the WTCC certainly does seem to be good at raising awareness of the Chevrolet brand - witness the large numbers of fans at Donington who had happily paid decent sums for bright blue clothing emblazened with the gold bowtie logo.
Choosing such a category of racing is no doubt a good move for Chevrolet Europe. In this region, the image is arguably unknown-to-positive. Mainstream is certainly not a word you associate with this brand (92,061 sales in H1 gave Chevy 1.3% of the European market, according to ACEA). It also helps that the cars themselves, like Hyundais and Kias, continue to be big improvements each time a new one is launched - witness the new Cruze five-door which I tried over the weekend and was surprised to discover, in diesel form at least, is right up there with the class leaders and did feel just like an Astra. I didn't, shall we say, much care for the old model, the Lacetti hatchback.
The Cruze has now become a huge hit in the US (admitedly partly due to supply problems for Toyota and Honda's best sellers) - it was the country's best selling car last month, so while it's a shame that there's no WTCC round there this year, Chevrolet has arguably little need to boost the model's image. The forthcoming diesel and five-door (the US is unlikely to get the wagon that's said to be headed to Europe in 2012) can only help the model even more in that market.
So for now, the WTCC looks like being a useful tool for Chevrolet Europe's ongoing brand building. But later this year, it will probably also help swing a fair few sales of the car in China. Infusing some motor racing cred into the Cruze is only going to add to the model's ongoing success there - the registrations numbers I researched show that the Cruze was the fourth best selling car in the world's largest national car market last month (just ahead of the Ford Focus, GM will have been pleased to discover).
Perhaps racing is set to become what sets Chevrolet apart in markets such as China (and Europe) where GM has set high-growth targets for this brand. And here's a thought from left-field: how great would it be if an equivalency formula could be worked out to allow the Volt to compete in the WTCC in 2012 or 2013? I'm speculating here but just imagine what such a move would do for the global brand image of Chevrolet and plug-in cars in general.
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