By Stephanie Wallcraft
It’s an age-old adage in motorsport: “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.”
It speaks to the cachet that comes with victory. When a given car won at Daytona or Le Mans back in the day, its brand’s showrooms were teeming almost immediately afterward. People want to drive winners.
But does the concept still apply today, especially when the fields of so many racing series are filled with multiple copies of the same car?
Didier Marsaud, Director of Corporate Communications for Nissan Canada, thinks it does, so long as our understanding of how it works changes with the times.
Early in his career with what’s now known as the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, Marsaud worked with Renault Sport in Europe. Even 20 years ago he noticed different interpretations of what participation in racing can mean for automotive brands.
“I was in the rallying department, and there was a fight between the head of rally and the head of Formula One,” he explains. “The head of rally was saying, ‘you know, when we win the Rallye du Mont-Blanc on Sunday, we sell Meganes on Monday. When you win the Australian Grand Prix, we don’t sell cars on Monday.’
“I think motorsport is about that. There are different tools to achieve different objectives. This why Infiniti went into Formula One, not to sell more cars but to get brand awareness. Formula One is absolutely fantastic for that because the numbers are huge and it’s everywhere in the world. But you don’t sell cars with Formula One.
“With rallying or spec series, you have a direct connection with your product.”
One aspect of Marsaud’s job is to oversee the Nissan Micra Cup, a single-make series based in Ontario and Quebec that the company bills as Canada’s most affordable racing series.
For around $20,000, a St-Eustache, Quebec-based shop called Motorsports In Action will take a base Nissan Micra, strip out the non-essentials, and bolt in a roll cage, NISMO suspension, and some souped-up brakes.The bulk of the car, including the engine and transmission, remains stock. Throw on a set of Pirelli slick tires and you’re ready to go racing.
But when one Micra is beating several dozen other Micras week in and week out, is the impact on the consumer the same as besting cars from different makes?
“I would say (that’s true) even more with Micra Cup because the product is stock,” Marsaud says. “(Micra owners) are amazed when they see what our drivers do with the same cars as them with just a racing suspension and brake pads. They would not believe their car can do that.”
Making personal connections
Customers may not tend to discover these differences on their own, however. Getting them out to experience these racing events first-hand is key to making that connection.
This is why Nissan regularly uses the series as an activation opportunity. For example, the company invited Micra owners to take part in an on-track parade as part of the activities at this year’s season finale at Circuit Mont-Tremblant in late September.
“For those (Micra owners), we treat them as VIPs,” Marsaud says. “They bought a car that was $10,000 and they were invited for lunch, received by the teams, and in this case by the president (of Nissan Canada, Joni Paiva).
“You build loyalty with that. Those people, they will buy another Micra or they will come back to Nissan.”
This concept of loyalty is why Marsaud isn’t concerned in the least that the Micra’s sales have trended downward since their peak month in May 2015, when Micra sold 1,278 units; in May of 2017, Nissan moved only 922 Micras. Consumers are flocking to crossovers in record numbers, and Nissan shored up its small crossover line-up by pulling the subcompact Qashqai into North America earlier this year. In Canada, it far outsold the Micra’s best month just four months in, hitting 1,557 units in August 2017.
Marsaud points out that Micra and its larger sibling, the Versa Note, have maintained their market share in a segment that’s declining. As long as a product is outselling its competition, even if that figure is lower than for other cars in its line-up, an automaker is generally happy.
But because of the loyal customers that the Micra Cup cultivates for the Nissan brand, Marsaud says that in the context of the racing series it doesn’t matter if Micra sales are lower.
“At the beginning, (marketing around the series) was very Micra-focused,” he says. “But then we found out that (this messaging is) spread out on the brand. When you see this car doing this, (you think) Nissan cars are good.
“At (the Grand Prix of) Trois-Rivières, we had 700 customers invited – Sentra, Qashqai, whatever. This is what we are doing more and more now. The Micra Cup is not only about Micra. It’s the Nissan brand.”
And in the longer term, Marsaud’s vision is that today’s Micra owners who have had positive interactions with Nissan through these events may be future Altima or Pathfinder owners.
“Maybe they buy a Micra and they’re happy with it,” he suggests. “In two or three years, they will come back and buy a Versa or an Altima or a Qashqai.”
So, it seems it’s time for motorsport’s oldest catchphrase to evolve into a bigger-picture view.
Win on Sunday, sell next summer!