Brand Scares off Ford and MINI?
Well, despite Hyundai’s best efforts, the wheels continue to fall off over at the World Rally Championship (WRC). The South Korean brand announced at the end of September that it would campaign a Hyundai i20—the global alternative to the U.S. Hyundai Accent—in the 2013 season, but since that time:
Ford, the WRC’s title sponsor, revealed it would drop out of the series after this year's events wrap up. The Blue Oval had, obviously, been a huge player in the WRC, winning back-to-back manufacturer’s titles as recently as 2006-2007, but according to Roelant de Waard, vice president of Marketing, Sales and Service for Ford of Europe. "At this time … we determined that it was better for the company and the Ford brand to reduce our commitment to the WRC and deploy our resources in other areas."
The automaker is now “in discussions” with its longtime rallying partners at M-Sport about providing ongoing support for the team and the rally version of the Ford Fiesta. Of course, uncoincidentally, just three days before the WRC news broke, Ford launched a new motorsports relationship as the official partner to Formula DRIFT.
MINI also declined to re-up for the 2013 WRC season, and this just one year after its much-hyped debut with a factory-backed MINI John Cooper Works. On the other hand, BMW (the brand’s owner) will continue to supply engines and other parts to Prodrive (the brand’s rallying partner). Per Kay Segeler, a MINI senior vice president, noting that: “In a very difficult commercial environment, MINI has played an active role in ensuring that friends of the MINI brand can continue to participate in motorsport.”
Finally, Sébastien Loeb is going into semi-retirement after recently capturing his ninth consecutive WRC driver’s championship (in a Citroën). The French rally legend will compete only in a handful of events in 2013, although they will include the famed Monte Carlo Rally.
Now, it’s true that Hyundai’s involvement will help matters—as will Toyota’s decision to dip its corporate toes back in the water with an entry-class Toyota Yaris rally car—but it sure looks like the road ahead for the WRC will be just about as bumpy as some of its courses.