Chevy targets cycle fans as potential truck buyers

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Chevrolet is trying to win over its truck consumers young -- in fact, when they're too young to drive.

Chevrolet Trucks has inked a 2-year deal to be title sponsor of the American Motorcyclist Association's Motocross and Superbike Pro Racing series, sports that appeal heavily to the "Echo Boomers" born between 1980 and 1984. The General Motors Corp. brand is also a name sponsor of Kawasaki's professional Supercross and Motocross teams and Kawasaki's Team Green amateur program. Chevrolet Trucks is the association's first sponsor of the U.S. team in the Motocross des Nations race in France in September.

"Our research tells us consumers develop their brand loyalties as early as 12 or 13 years old, when they [first] aspire to drive, so we're going to be ready for that," said John Farris, assistant brand manager of Chevy's Silverado pickup, and a longtime dirt-bike rider.

The full-size pickup and the compact S-10 pickup are the lead trucks for the sponsorships, but Chevy's sport utilities are also displayed at AMA races.

The events have been gaining in popularity, said Scott Hollingsworth, president of AMA's Pro Racing unit, who said attendance at AMA's Motocross annual event has jumped by 40% since 1994. The four pro circuits AMA sanctions tallied annual attendance of 1.7 million people last year, he said. The 16 events for Supercross this year are expected to draw 800,000 fans.

Moreover, he said the AMA racing series offers "a good demographic for truck manufacturers."

Other truck marketers seem to agree. Mazda Motor of America sponsors Team Chaparral Yamaha in the Motocross and Supercross series. Chevrolet succeeded it this season as title sponsor of Motocross, which Mazda had since 1998. Toyota Motor Sales USA is also a presenting sponsor of the Supercross, a sponsorship it's held since 1997.

EMBRACING MOTORCYCLING

With the Chevy Trucks deal, however, Chevrolet virtually overnight became the AMA's biggest sponsor, Mr. Hollingsworth said. "Chevrolet came in with a fairly big embrace of motorcycling."

An executive close to the AMA said Chevy is spending as much as $5 million annually for the sponsorships and media buys during broadcasts on ESPN2 and Speedvision.

Chevrolet is readying its first AMA-tied advertising, aimed at a broader motorcycling audience than simply Echo Boomers. Campbell-Ewald, Warren, Mich., created two print ads, which arrive in June cycling enthusiast titles. One shows a member of Team Chevy Truck Kawasaki flying in the air on his cycle under the headline "My other bike is a truck." Mr. Farris said Chevy's research revealed that 30% of Silverado owners engage in some form of motorcycling, and motorcycling ranks as the third-most-popular activity among all pickup owners. Fishing is tops, followed by hunting. He cited Cycle World magazine statistics showing 75% of its readers own a truck.

Younger buyers, however, are key. Truck and car buyers under the age of 25 have absolutely no brand loyalty, said Art Spinella, VP of auto consultancy CNW/Marketing/Research, making AMA sponsorships critical for Chevrolet to help build brand loyalty among teens attracted to the sport.

The process, however, will take a while.

"This is a very long-term approach, and you have to stick with it for years and years," Mr. Spinella said.

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