Why the Bathurst 1000 doesn't sell cars

Once a formula for sales success, competing in the Bathurst 1000 today isn't the advertisement it once was

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“Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” may long have been the marketing catchcry of the Bathurst 1000 – justifying the multi-million-dollar spends in race cars and the teams that keep them blasting up Mount Panorama.

But the October sales figures that incorporate the crucial Monday when punters apparently flock to their dealerships tell a different story, following a massive sales slump for the Ford Mustang and Holden Commodore that headline the V8 Supercars show at Bathurst.

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In its first year competing at Bathurst as a V8 Supercar, the Mustang recorded its worst October sales since arriving in Australia in 2016.

Just 219 were listed as sold, less than half the typical monthly figure.

The Holden Commodore – which made up almost three-quarters of the 2019 Bathurst 1000 field and filled the other two podium positions - also had a subdued month, its 469 sales not far above record lows for the nameplate.

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To be fair, car makers haven’t spruiked the win-on-Sunday-sell-on-Monday line for years, but that hasn’t stopped the official Bathurst 1000 broadcasters from running with it.

In a promo that ran numerous times in the lead up to the October 13 endurance race, Fox Sports and Channel 10 made it a key part of the marketing pitch.

The poignant promo was delivered by actor Matthew Nable, who talked up the history of Australia’s most famous motor race and its apparent success at selling cars.

“Here’s the thing: at Bathurst you’re either first or you’re forgotten,” said Nable. “Win Sunday, sell Monday, that’s the chant of the manufacturers.”

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Ford disputes the simplicity of the phrase but still believes motorsport is a key piece of the brand’s marketing message.

“We still think motorsport sells vehicles but it’s not as literal as a Mustang wins Bathurst and you buy a Mustang,” said Ford Australia product communications manager Damion Smy, also highlighting the innovations and technical expertise that can help build better road cars.

He also pointed to the overall branding message.

“It brings the brand presence to people’s mind … they may end up buying a Ranger.”

While Ford’s October sales picked up slightly from September, the growth wasn’t as big as Ford’s growth in the same month in 2018 – when a Holden won the Bathurst 1000.

Besides, Holden’s sales from September to October 2019 grew by more than Ford’s, even though it didn’t win the race – a race the broadcaster says you must win to be remembered.

And the 2019 experience isn’t a one-off.

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In the most recent 24 years that reliable sales data is available for, Ford has won the Great Race seven times and Holden 17 times.

In Ford’s seven years of standing on top of the podium only twice did its sales pick up in October compared with September.

Similarly, only twice were Ford’s sales better in the October of the Bathurst victory compared with the previous year.

In Holden’s 17 most recent Bathurst 1000 victories it’s a tale of two halves.

Prior to the local manufacturing boom years of the late 1990s and 2000s most of Holden’s victories resulted in an October sales boom (nine of the 10 wins between 1996 and 2009 saw sales jump, with only a slight slump in 2005. The figures also suggest it was Holden as a brand that benefited rather than the Commodore specifically.

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But from 2010 onwards it’s mostly red ink, with four of the seven wins leading to big sales drops, especially for the Commodore that headlines the race track activities.

When comparing October sales with October from the previous year Holden’s fortunes are almost as mixed, although the Lion brand does tend to experience a sales increase compared with a non-Bathurst-winning year.

All of which points to very few people rushing to their dealerships straight after Australia’s premiere motorsport event.

 

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Toby Hagon
Journalist

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