General Motors used a new website to market its multimillion-dollar debut at the Le Mans 24 Hours endurance race in France on June 17 and 18.
The website - www.gm.com/ lemans - displayed live footage of the race from video cameras inside GM's four race cars: two Cadillac LMPs and two Chevrolet Corvette C5-Rs.
GM expected more than 500,000 potential customers worldwide to visit the site.
Industry sources estimate GM has spent about $40 million to develop and build the four cars. GM would not confirm the figure.
The problem GM faced, however, was how to market its first factory-backed Le Mans racing teams efficiently, especially in the USA, where Le Mans fans are scarce.
Privately funded teams have raced GM vehicles at Le Mans in the past, but there has never been a GM corporate entry.
'We were scratching our heads to work out how we could get leverage off our investment in this one prestigious race across the globe, and particularly the USA,' said John Middlebrook, GM vice president in charge of vehicle brand marketing. 'We think this connection is really going to do it for us.'
Although the Cadillac LMP (Le Mans Prototype) has made cameo appearances in Cadillac TV commercials, marketing GM's Le Mans participation through TV or print ads would have been too expensive. Middlebrook said the web provided the most efficient way to reach customers worldwide. He would not say how much GM is spending on the website.
Mark Hogan, president of e-GM, GM's electronic-commerce business unit, said GM will learn from the Le Mans website and will consider doing other racing events the same way.
The website was produced by Quokka Sports Inc., a San Francisco company that also produced GM's live Internet broadcast from Detroit's North American International Auto Show in January. GM's Le Mans site also can be reached at lemans.quokka.com.
Visitors to the website over the weekend saw data from the four cars, including speed, braking, rpm and lateral G-forces.
The site also highlighted new GM technology from Cadillac and its OnStar in-vehicle communications business unit. It showed the positions of the cars on the 13km course using OnStar's global positioning satellites.
At night, the site broadcasted footage from the Cadillac cars' Night Vision infrared cameras, the same cameras available on the 2000 Cadillac DeVille in the USA.
Web cameras were also mounted on several Cadillac Seville STS safety vehicles being used at Le Mans. Other features of the site included links to Le Mans news, the Radio Le Mans Web site, and other GM sites such as GM BuyPower.
'Information is going to be flowing from the race cars in Le Mans, France to homes across the world,' said Hogan before the start of the race on Saturday.
It was the first Cadillac to race at Le Mans for more than 50 years. Even back in 1950, Cadillac was only represented by a private team at the famous French race.
Cadillac offers NightVision as a $1,995 option on its DeVille large sedan. The system uses an infrared camera and head-up display to improve the view at night.