Ford’s Racing Pedigree Wins with Race Fans and New Car Buyers – Forbes
Ford Motor Ford Motor Company started business in 1903, but its genesis took place two years earlier, when founder Henry Ford defeated Alexander Winton in a highly publicized 10-lap race at the Detroit Driving Club in Gross Point, Michigan. Before the race Winton was favored to win because of his established reputation as a successful automaker and premier race driver. After the race Henry Ford basked not only in the thrill of victory but in his newly-established reputation as a producer of race-winning automobiles. You can hear all the details, directly from Henry Ford’s great-grandson Edsel Ford II, at Ford.com, but the outcome of that win led to the financial backing Henry needed to launch his second car company in 1903 (his first, the Detroit Automobile Company, went bankrupt months before he beat Alexander Winton).
It makes sense for a company founded on racing to pay homage to the sport, and Ford is arguably the most successful automaker in the field of professional racing. It’s the only single automaker that can claim victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500, Grand Prix of Monaco, NHRA U.S. Nationals, Baja 1000 and X Games Rallycross. Between 1963 and 1966 Ford won the Daytona 500, the Indianapolis 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, three of racing’s biggest events, yet three events that utilize vastly different vehicles. This was during Ford’s “Total Total Performance” era, a period when Henry Ford II wanted to change the company’s image from one of dependable-but-dull into one of built-for-speed-and-victory (which his successfully accomplished).
So what does racing from two bygone eras have to do with Ford’s success as an automaker in 2014? Plenty, according to Jim Farley, Executive Vice President of Global Sales, Marketing and Service and head of the Lincoln brand. “According to R.L. Polk, 1 out of 4 performance variants of new cars sold in the U.S. has a Ford badge on it. So we have 25 percent of the performance car market share, almost double our general market share,” says Farley of Ford’s performance models. Examples of these models would include the Fiesta ST, Focus ST, Taurus SHO, Mustang Shelby GT500 and F-150 SVT Raptor. “We sell 60,000 of these performance vehicles a year. When we add it up and look at the revenue, it’s a multi-billion dollar business for us, just on the new vehicle sales side.” Farley displays his genuine interest in performance cars by owning and driving a Ford Cobra.
Farley says the same technology that’s allowing Ford to build performance machines for the street and track is also contributing the company’s fuel economy gains through technologies like EcoBoost, Ford’s small, turbocharged engines that aspire to provide fuel efficiency and performance. The smallest of these engines, a 1.0-liter, 3-cylinder engine in Ford’s Fiesta, delivers 31 city, 43 highway and 36 combined mpg while feeling quick and torquey — despite it’s diminutive size. This engine was just named to Ward’s 10 Best Engines list for 2014, the first 3-cylinder engine to ever win the accolade. And the similarity between Ford’s production and racing engines is closer than you might think. For instance, the 3.5-liter EcoBoost in the Taurus SHO uses the same block, heads, crank, rods, pistons, valve dimensions and compression ratio as the racing engine used in Ford Racing’s IMSA/TUDOR United SportsCar Championship series. Ford used this engine to land an overall win at the 24 Hours of Sebring in March, its first win at this race since 1969.
But does the “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” mantra still hold up after all these years? It was the reason automakers jumped into series like NASCAR and NHRA during the 1960s, but are modern car buyers still buying cars because they win? According to Ford’s research, 40 percent of new vehicle intenders in Ford’s major global markets (North America, Europe and Asia) have an interest in Motorsports. The research also shows NASCAR as the most followed form of motorsports in the U.S., with 80 percent of new vehicle intenders saying they have an interest in the sport. The perception by Ford race fans of key vehicle attributes, such as “fun to drive”, “good gas mileage”, “high quality” and “excellent safety” are more than 50 percent higher compared to non-race fans. And race fans, regardless of brand affiliation, have a 17 percent higher favorable opinion of the Ford brand than non-race fans.
Now consider the 75 million people who follow NASCAR and it becomes clear why Ford would open a new Ford Technical Support Center in Concord, North Carolina. This facility is a short drive from Charlotte Motor Speedway, Penske Racing and Roush Fenway Racing, that latter two race facilities serving as key partners in Ford’s racing efforts. The new technical center, located in the heart of NASCAR’s racing world, will support not only racing functions but also serve as a development and R&D hub for technologies applicable to future Ford production cars. While visiting this impressive technical center in May I was fortunate enough to ride with Greg Biffle, in his Ford Fusion NASCAR, around Charlotte Motor Speedway. Strapped into Biffle’s race car, hitting speeds over 180 mph on the straights and massive lateral Gs through the corners, made this ride among the most intense automotive experiences I’ve had (see video).
As Raj Nair, Ford’s Group Vice President, Global Product Development, said at the opening of Ford’s Technical Support Center, “We’re a company that makes cars, and this is a sport that races cars. How could we not be involved? There’s no other sport that supports the product as much as auto racing supports the automotive industry. That’s why we’re involved. That’s why performance plays such an important part of our brand. This commitment to performance goes way beyond ST vehicles and the Focus RS and Shelby GT500. We tie it into the DNA of every vehicle we do because we want ‘fun to drive’ to be part of our brand messaging.”