NASCAR Rumor: Both Hyundai and Honda may enter Cup Series

According to Toyota Executive Ed Laukes, both Honda and Hyundai are eyeing a possible entry into the NASCAR Cup Series if Hybrid engines are adopted.

Hybrids are in favor with consumers

Sales of hybrids, plug-in hybrids and battery-electric vehicles made up 18.9% of all new light-duty vehicle sales in the U.S. last year, according to S&P Global Mobility, up from 12.3% in 2022 and 8.5% in 2021. A total of 1.6 million EVs were sold in the U.S. in April, which was down 25% compared to April 2023.

Signs of trouble with the EV sales are not hard to find. Most consumers feel they are too costly, too heavy, and their range is an issue.  And with reports they pollute the environment more that ICE powered cars, consumers begin to question their viability.

Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports in NASCAR, has a unique point of view because he’s in racing and one of the largest car dealers in America. He told the Robb Report publication that his dealerships in Northern California have a waiting list for Lexus hybrid cars but have to “put big discounts” on Lexus EV cars.

“The customer is going to dictate what you build,” Hendrick told the publication. “I’ve been in the automobile business for almost 50 years, and you can’t force customers to buy what they don’t want. We were too aggressive with the EV market.”

Ed Laukes, a former senior executive of Toyota Motor North America, told Adam Stern of SBJ, the rise in hybrids presents an opportunity for NASCAR to move away from its outdated engine technology and get its product back to being more relevant to carmakers. NASCAR uses an eight-cylinder gas engine that is not compatible with those used in the new cars that Americans drive, limiting the marketing potential of current manufacturers in the sport and making it more difficult to bring in additional ones, analysts say.

“Relevance to the industry has always been at the forefront for all the [carmakers in racing],” said Laukes, who consults for Joe Gibbs Racing. If NASCAR allowed the carmakers to soup up one of their road car engines into a NASCAR engine, “now you have relevance and you bring your cost way down because you’re already working on that type of driveline,” he added.

Prospective car companies have told NASCAR they will join only if NASCAR can offer a compelling narrative for consumers with hybrid cars or sustainable fuels, according to a person familiar with the matter per Adam Stern of SBJ.

Car companies play outsized roles in racing relative to other sponsors. For example, Toyota was the biggest national TV advertiser during NASCAR races in 2023 at $3.8 million, according to NASCAR has been in discussions with Honda to persuade the Japanese giant to become its fourth manufacturer, joining Chevrolet, Toyota and Ford, and Laukes mentioned Hyundai as another brand that could see NASCAR as a viable marketing platform.

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