Having ditched the Super Bowl to enter into a five-year partner deal with football team Manchester United, General Motors looks set to spread the reach of its number one brand, Chevrolet, into sporting areas with wider global appeal. Could cycling be the next beneficiary?
According to General Motors, the world’s largest automobile manufacturer by volume (GM claims its market share of the global vehicle industry is 11.9%), 4.76 million Chevrolets were sold last year in more than 120 countries. Expressed differently; worldwide, a Chevrolet is sold every 6.6 seconds. The marquee accounts for more than 50% of GM’s group global sales (units).
After announcing GM’s tie-up with Manchester United, Joel Ewanick, General Motors’ global chief marketing officer, was quoted in Wards Auto as saying “there are a number of opportunities in other sports”. Though he declined to elaborate, Ewanick followed up by saying this latest marketing venture by GM is “an indication of how we’re looking at marketing for Chevrolet.”
Somewhat ironically – whether it’s Subaru and Orica-GreenEDGE, Nissan and Radioshack, Jaguar and Sky, et al – ongoing systemic tension between motorists and cyclists on the roads doesn’t seem to put car manufacturers off professional road cycling, or vice-versa. A look at Tour of Beijing’s sponsor roll from last year offers another example of auto makers investing in this increasingly-popular global sport.
Interestingly, a key element inked into General Motors’ agreement with Manchester United is for the team to compete in two tournaments in China – GM’s third-biggest market after the USA and Brazil. Could it be that China – the only Asian country with a UCI WorldTour event (two, once Tour of Hangzhou is finally, or inevitably, confirmed) – might also become a beneficiary of GM’s expanded sports marketing horizons, via a similar deal with a local team (the ProContinental Champion System team has ProTeam ambitions) or event, such as Tour of Hangzhou?
An even more tantalizing prospect could be the return by Chevy to American-based pro cycling. The ‘Chevrolet – L.A. Sheriff’ team was one of America’s top professional road cycling outfits in the 1990’s. Though the squad only existed for six years (1991-1996), some big names graced its roster – Tour de France stage winner Jeff Pierce, future Tour de France third-place-getter Bobby Julich, Olympic Games track cycling gold medallist Steve Hegg and veteran British cyclist Malcom Elliott. GM’s industry peers have evidently found value in cycling, so it wouldn’t be a huge leap to imagine the company is conducting similar evaluations of involvement.
Such a move would certainly not harm GM’s image, which hasn’t always been on the best side of cycling promotion, in the US; the disastrous “reality sucks” advertising campaign run in late 2011 was a low point. What shape the leverage and activation of a stake in cycling would take is another question entirely. The Chevrolet brand has plenty of cachet in Japan when applied to a bicycle frame, but similar brand extensions in the US or European markets might prove commercially non-viable. A more likely bet would be promotion of GM’s hybrid vehicles, via the trendy hooks of sustainability and eco-friendliness that sponsorship of a cycling team affords.