Hanley said there are three options for the brand when it comes to motorsport: 1) joining the V8 Supercars championship; 2) racing in GT3; 3) not getting involved in motorsport at all.
Obviously there are positives and negatives for all three options. With V8 Supercars, the new Generation Two rules will allow a lot more varied competition in the series, something Hanley is clearly wary of, let alone the cost of establishing the brand in that championship. With GT3, the Lexus RC F GT3 is essentially ready to go whenever the brand wants it to. And the third option – to opt out altogether – saves a lot of fuss.
“This is a really important topic for us,” Hanley said.
“Now we’ve got the F Sport brand and by the end of the year we will have introduced the two F models, being the RC F and the GS F that’s coming quite late in the year, and the F Sport brand across most models, expect the LX, then it’s time to try and reach out to a broader audience. And motorsport to me seems like an ideal for Lexus to look at.
“Essentially though in Australia you have two motorsport opportunities that align to us. One is V8 Supercars, but only under Generation Two rules could we go into it that space on our current line-up and have a car that we can race and then put into showrooms. It wouldn’t be the exact car but it would look the same, and that would be the RC F.”
The question of whether potential customers need to be able to go in to the showroom and essentially see the car they’ve seen on television in the race matters, according to Hanley, but not as much as exposing Lexus to potential new buyers.
“What’s important is to take the brand to places where it may not be seen before,” Hanley said. “To appeal to an audience that may not ever considered us before, never thought of us in that light.
“Then about 12 months ago, knowing GS F was probably coming and knowing RC F is definitely coming, I thought – you know what, if we want to broaden our consideration and expand our appeal then maybe, despite my own lack of knowledge, we need to look at that.”
Hanley instated a team to research if an involvement motorsport would work for Lexus in Australia, and also establish something of a presence in the V8 Supercars program as the official Safety Car – something Hanley said was a “low risk investment” that allowed the company to get a better grip on the business and meet the people that make the decisions in that series.
However, the Japanese company was also working on its own racing car, the aforementioned RC F GT3, and that threw a spanner in the works.
“The other thing that evolved in our own organisation was the development, and it is still in development, of a GT3 racing team, which wasn’t anywhere on the agenda when I was having discussions 12 months ago.”
Hanley suggested that in GT3, the brand is racing in more esteemed company, rather than being the only full-fat luxury brand among more mainstream offerings in the V8 Supercars championship.
“So the study we’ve done is comprehensive, to include motorsport, fan research and how they would see Lexus in V8 Supercars because that’s important for us to know,” Hanley said.
“We’ve conducted Lexus owner research because our owners are deeply important to us and we want to know how they’d feel if we went into V8 Supercars. And truthfully, that’s a big consideration for us.”
How do owners feel?
“They feel OK as long as you win it!” Hanley said, laughing.
“You’ve got to look at your brand positions: where do you want your brand positioned?” he posited.
“Then there is option three, which is do you do motorsport at all. And that’s where we’re at and we expect to have a decision in the next three to four weeks.”
Stay tuned for that.