NASCAR eyes China

NASCAR is taking its road show to Mexico City in a few weeks, and Montreal and Toronto are on the horizon. Now, how about Shanghai?

General Motors' John Middlebrook, for years the man who has been NASCAR's ace-in-the-hole in Detroit, for his staunch support of stock-car racing, has a new job – global sales and marketing. And he's heading from Daytona to Shanghai, the Asian city-of-the-future.

Shanghai, with some 30 percent of all the world's construction cranes busy at work, boasts a state-of-the-art race track, which was home to a Formula One race last fall. The F1 race was used to promote the city as a world venue, and sponsoring companies used the race to network into the lucrative Chinese market.

"It's amazing – every time you go there it's like a new city, it's growing so fast. I think they've got every crane in the world there building," Middlebrook said. "The market potential for us in our business is so huge, because the number of people there who have automobiles is so tiny, and the economy is starting to really move. We're looking at a lot of synergies with China in a lot of areas. We're working with the NBA in basketball, because that's such a big thing there. And they've got the Olympics coming. So there are a lot of sports things."

Could NASCAR use Shanghai as an international marketing gambit, as it did Japan, with its three races there? "I think so," Middlebrook said. "I'm sure they learned a lot from the Japan venture. It may well come down to the sponsor side of the thing. Right now we don't have that many global sponsors (in NASCAR racing), but it's increasing all the time. And you think about the growth of companies like Home Depot and Lowe's that are really going after these markets. All of a sudden they have this asset (NASCAR)….

"So you could see a cadre of global brands. Certainly Ford and Chevy and Toyota and others. And now that we have this need to promote the Chevrolet brand globally – it is clearly a global brand for us – what better format than if we could work together to do it. I think the possibilities are endless."

And racing, Middlebrook emphasizes, is a key part of GM's marketing: "It may sound like a trite answer, but one thing about NASCAR – we're a winner. We get beat up in the press a lot of times, and the one thing about General Motors in NASCAR is we play hard and we play to win and we do win. We won 22 races last year and the manufacturers' championship.

"It's a strong core success story for us, and the more we can play that, the better the reputation of the company."

Middlebrook has been a GM-NASCAR man for years. Since September he has been on a global mission, "trying to tie the whole globe together, with our sales, our service and our marketing processes and systems. Chevrolet is a global brand, in 70 countries. And we're getting great results in taking the Chevy brand into Europe right now. Just introduced it in China, launched it in January, and in Thailand. So we're getting Chevy positioned in Asia-Pacific. And racing is one of those things that has a global reach, and global opportunities." More at Winston Salem Journal

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