To the Editor:
I read Luca Ciferri's 11 May commentary with interest ('Racing builds imagery, not Monday sales').
Prodrive's experience would tend to contradict the assertion that motorsport in general can deliver only image benefits, as opposed to tangible sales.
Prodrive is responsible for the development, test and running of the 555 Subaru World Rally Team, triple World Rally champions.
Prior to Subaru's involvement in the World Rally Championship, the marque faced dilemmas: a geographical market bias with 86 percent of sales in Japan and the USA, a skew toward older customers for low-margin base models, and limited resources.
Participation in the World Rally Championship provided a marketing platform relevant to a global audience. Costs were manageable for a mid-volume manufacturer. Besides the undeniable shift in image toward a marque of pedigree and substance, racing provided the leverage to drive sales.
Tangible evidence includes the UK experience of a 77 percent sales increase in two years (1996-97). The pedigree assisted in moving the model mix toward the flagship Impreza and Legacy (121 percent increase). A visible shift towards premium models has undoubtedly been achieved by a quantum shift in customer demographics. The average age of Subaru customers in the UK fell from 48 in 1994 to 33 in 1997.
In Switzerland, sales of Impreza Turbo models increased by 73 percent over three years. In Australia, Impreza sales increased by 41 percent.
It would be misleading to suggest that Prodrive's marketing approach to motorsport could claim wholesale credit for the improvement in Subaru's worldwide fortunes. It is worth noting that in a market such as Canada, detached from the World Rally Championship, Subaru's fortunes have also improved, although not by such dimensions.
What is clear is that Subaru continues to present the market with ever-improving, class-leading products, but communication of these merits is the only way to translate inherent qualities into sales.
Prodrive Ltd., Banbury, UK