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April 1, 2014

Jamie Allison

Jim Campbell

David Wilson

KERRY THARP:  Good afternoon, everyone.  Today we have a special NASCAR teleconference, as we are joined by representatives from the three manufacturers that compete in NASCAR:  Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota.  We are pleased to have with us Jamie Allison, the Director of Ford Racing; Jim Campbell, the U.S. Vice President, Performance Vehicles and Motorsports; and David Wilson, the President and General Manager of Toyota Racing Development USA.
We're going to begin today's teleconference by asking each of our participants an opening question and then we'll go to the conference line for questions from the media.  First for Jamie Allison.  Jamie, earlier this year NASCAR instituted a new qualifying format for its national series.  So far we've seen four new track records in Sprint Cup qualifying alone.  How do you think that the overall qualifying experience has improved, and what are your overall impressions of the racing we've seen thus far this season?
JAMIE ALLISON:  Well, first, Kerry, and to all the media members on the call and to David and Jim, looking forward to this opportunity to talk with you about this exciting start to the NASCAR season.
With this new year, NASCAR introduced a new racing package, and I'll tell you here in the first six races, it's been some of the most fantastic and spectacular racing that we have seen.  First as a fan and also second as a stakeholder in the sport, six different winners coming through at different tracks, and you asked also about the qualifying.
Every aspect of racing should be as exciting as what we want to see in a race.  The new qualifying format brought with it a sense of excitement, a set of rules that allows for the teams to put the most exciting form right there up front in a very short, compact time frame, and you saw truly a lot of exciting racing going on even in qualifying.  So that's really the true spirit of racing that every time you're involved in the sport, every aspect of it should be just as exciting as the final race.
As you can tell, we at Ford Motor Company and our Ford race fans continue to echo all the excitement that we've seen at the beginning of the season, and we are very proud personally at Ford of some of the early success that we've seen from our Ford teams.
Obviously on the Penske side, there's been a couple of opportunities where we sat on the front row.  Brad has had four straight front‑row starts, and then Carl advanced to a final round four straight times.  So between Carl, Brad, Joey, Greg and the entire team at Ford Racing, we feel that's an early opportunity to apply some of those successes into the rest of the season.  That's our perspective on the early situations of this season.
KERRY THARP:  For Jim, NASCAR also introduced a new Chase format for this season with a much greater emphasis on winning, and as we've talked about, we've had six different winners through the first six Sprint Cup races alone, and that's the most since 2003.  How do you think the new format has impacted and will continue to impact the competition the remainder of this season?
JIM CAMPBELL:  Well, just want to say this change is one that NASCAR, I think, called all the manufacturers on to talk about before they implemented it, and the focus on winning is fantastic.  I think it really has created very exciting racing, race strategies, and to have six different race winners in the first six races is very exciting for Chevrolet.  It was great to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch get a win, but between those three plus Carl, Kyle and Brad, those six drivers now are going to be very aggressive and going for the win because they've got a good shot to be virtually in the Chase, which is great.
The reason why I say virtually, there's 16 spots, and only twice in NASCAR's history have there been more than 16 winners through a season in the first 26 races.  Victory right now pretty much ensures a spot in the Chase, and I think it's fantastic.  The focus on winning is I think spot‑on.
KERRY THARP:  And for David, if you could speak to the collaboration that has been present between NASCAR and the manufacturers as it pertains to the development and roll‑out of the new Gen‑6 car in the Sprint Cup Series last year, the new truck in the Camping World Truck Series this year, and the new 2014 Sprint Cup Series rules package that was implemented at the beginning of this season.
DAVID WILSON:  I'd love to speak to that point because without a doubt the collaboration between NASCAR and the three OEM manufacturers can only be characterized as an unqualified success.  Simply put, we're so much better working together alongside NASCAR towards these common objectives, and we may not hit home runs every time, but we're going to hit them more often than not, and we're delighted to be part of this process.
Each of us continues to reap the benefits of the Generation 6 cars introduced last year.  Having our respective brand identities in front of the fans and letting the fans and letting the broadcasters talk about the rivalries between Ford, Chevy and Toyota, that's what this sport was founded upon.  Again, we're just delighted for that result.
This year the car rule changes that have been brought to the racetrack, again, were the result of a collaboration that began in 2013.  We sat down with NASCAR and their technical group, and we agreed on the base objective, and that is how do we improve the quality of racing that we're seeing on the racetrack, and from there set about the very systematic process of testing.  We worked with the racetrack twice.  We were across the wind tunnel a couple times.  And what came from that was a defined set of changes that we've been racing this year.
As my two colleagues have already pointed out, we're seeing some of the most exciting racing each and every weekend.  So again, a great example of how we can achieve more by working together.

Q.  This could be for anybody, but I imagine David may have the most insight.  As far as with the talk about reduction of horsepower next year, is the main concern trying to figure out parts and pieces for engines and then kind of the durability of those parts and pieces if NASCAR were to implement a multiple race rule for engines next year, too, after that?
DAVID WILSON:  Really this is a question and something that all the manufacturers, all of the engine builders have been a part of.  I think the focus right now really is about the process and the fact that, again, with some clear objectives in mind, NASCAR is talking to their stakeholders, not only us as manufacturers but all of the engine builders that are party to this process.  So the process is correct, it's healthy.  We're still talking along with NASCAR.  We're talking between ourselves about the various options, and it's still in the consideration phase.  I really don't think we have much to say beyond that.

Q.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed yesterday that they'd like to have rear view cameras in all cars and SUVs, trucks by the next few years, I guess phasing it in in 2016.  Relative to such a big topic for you guys in NASCAR the past couple years, how much more relevant would you like to see the cars?  If it's something that's not necessarily obviously competition related in this sense but if it's something that's on your street model cars, would you like to see NASCAR move more in that direction?
JIM CAMPBELL:  First of all, I'd just say that we've all talked about it before, the work that we've been doing with NASCAR on really increasing together the product relevance of what we race on the track and what we sell in the showroom.  It's been a collaborative effort, and if you think back, I know certainly from our perspective, I think the other manufacturers were in a similar spot.  We were interested in running on a biofuel, running relevant technologies and then getting the car we race on the track to be more connected to the car we sell in the showroom.  Biofuels in '11, fuel injection in '12 and then the Gen‑6 last year and then continuing this year.  So really, really good work together, and it just shows the power when we work together with the sanctioning body what can get done.
I think the next task at hand is really looking at what's next, under the hood, the exterior of the car, the interior of the car.  Those are all areas that I think will be open for discussion.  One thing I've learned about Robin Pemberton and the entire team, Steve O'Donnell and others, Mike Helton, Brian France, they're open to ideas, and so I think the power of us working together is we're going to get some good ideas on the table, see which ones make sense in terms of product relevancy that would I think really connect at the racetrack and link back to the showroom, and then also put a lens through it in terms of what's a proper use of the time and resources so that we're making every resource applied go as far as we can.

Q.  We heard Brian France mention glass dashboards a couple years ago.  We haven't heard much about it.  Since then have you heard anything more in terms of time frame, timetable in terms of when the cockpits will start having more digitized gauges and technology in them?
JAMIE ALLISON:  The short answer to the question is there has been ongoing conversation about the interior and some of the cockpit technologies that are available in some of the street cars.  To pick it up a level, I think you're hearing from Dave and Jim that there really is a dawn of a new era in terms of collaboration with the manufacturers.  I think one thing the Car of Tomorrow has shown all of us, shown the fans, shown the sanctioning body is that eventually, ultimately what the fans want to see is direct correlation between the cars on the track and the cars they own.  So your question on how far does one take it, clearly the progression of technology starting with relevancy and biofuels that Jim talked about, progression into the Car of Tomorrow, which is our brand identity, and where does one go from here.  Cockpit is certainly one element of it.  I think another aspect is you've got to look at what's going on in the automotive industry, so obviously some of the communication that's going on between the vehicle and externally, so potentially that's one aspect.  The other racing series there's a lot of aspects of telemetry, a lot of communication, but today that communication is happening to the fans, so the fans are able to see some of the elements of the racing that's going on.
So I think that's one aspect of it is communication.  Another aspect is just looking around at what's going on in technology.  Now, it may not be directly applicable, but at some point down the road in the future, this alternative form of propulsion, there's certainly gasoline propulsion for racing, but what other consideration beyond that in terms of a different aspect of the sport, whether it's on pit road or‑‑ so I think all those are open.  As long as we continue to look at the teams and the elements that are in the automotive sector and what is making its way into production cars and then having an open conversation with the sanctioning series about what product, what categories, what elements could be timely considered, that is the process that we the manufacturers are advocating for.  And out of the process comes the decision on which technology to phase in, whether it's cockpit, whether it's a glass display and the likes of other communication devices.
DAVID WILSON:  If I could join in on that question, as well.  The other thing, aspect, that I think we're all‑‑ we have to be sensitive to is as we've come to learn, you can't address just one thing.  You can't address one thing and put it in a vacuum.  Ultimately you change something here, and it's a game of Whack‑a‑Mole almost.  There are other considerations that pop up.  One of the things, and I think Jim alluded to it earlier, was relative to the best use of resource, and to get more specific, we have to be sensitive and respectful to the costs of racing and the costs of ownership that our team partners are faced with.
I think this is part of the dialogue, as well, that we're having with NASCAR as stakeholders.  We want our team partners to be fiscally healthy and to maintain sustainable operations.  So again, relevance absolutely has been a home run thus far.  How far we take that, as Jamie eloquently put, a number of factors go into that.  One of them for sure has got to be cost considerations.

Q.  David spoke earlier about the changes to the car for this year being kind of a collaborative effort between the manufacturers and NASCAR.  I wonder since so much of that effort seemed to be on the racing on 1.5 mile racetracks, are you getting what you hoped for in that regard?  I know we're only one race in with Vegas, but is Texas any sort of litmus test, and how hopeful are you you're going to get the sort of intermediate track racing you want to see?
JIM CAMPBELL:  Yeah, I think clearly Texas will be another datapoint for that.  We've just had one race under our belt.  I think actually we're heading in the right area, and the racing has been quite good.  But with only one race at that kind of category of a track, I think Texas will be another one to look at here and see how the racing is.
So far the racing overall has been really, really good, and I think what we've experienced with all the folks at NASCAR, Gene Stefanyshyn, Robin Pemberton, all of the teams along with the manufacturers and race teams is we've been working this thing together to find how do you get the racing tight and exciting.  So far, so good, but we only have one under our belt, and Texas will be the next.

Q.  Jamie, in a couple weeks the 2015 Ford Mustang is going to be hoisted to the 86th floor of the Empire State Building in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Ford Mustang.  I was just interested if you're doing anything in terms of activation with the Mustang in the Nationwide Series in NASCAR this year.
JAMIE ALLISON:  On April 17th is Mustang's 50th birthday, and actually we have a‑‑ obviously for this season, in terms of the platform and the configuration of the car, it's actually as it is.  But in terms of activation, we're working with one of our teams who's going to celebrate that moment with us.  Obviously you can respect our ability to put that out there at the right time.
And also we're working very closely with obviously the Mustang Club of America, obviously with all of the enthusiasts of the Mustang and then tapping into some of the support for Mustang among all facets of the sport, including NASCAR Racing in Nationwide to celebrate that moment on April 17th.  There's a lot of programs that are in play, but I need to respect the fact that those are going to be promoted and announced in due time.  In some regard I can't disclose the excitement that's going to happen, but at the end there's a lot of excitement tapping into all the fan base, from Nationwide all across all kinds of motorsports.

Q.  I know we were talking about the racing and the tracks coming up and Texas and whatnot, but I guess I'm interested in the sell‑on‑Monday saying, and everyone is talking about the racing has been better, the fans seem to be happier about it.  From what you've seen so far, how do you get reaction?  I'm not talking about being in the track, but like in the showroom or you're getting some kind of reaction or feedback from the fans via the manufacturing groups?  Could any one of you talk about that, the racing so far this year?
DAVID WILSON:  Great question.  One of the things that we believe in, I'm sure like my colleagues, is to try and measure as much as you can.  You want to understand what you're doing and the impact it's having.  We are here to put Toyota Camry and Tundra in front of the consumers every weekend, and we'd like to know how impactful that is.
The challenge is always getting that feedback and the timeliness of that feedback, depending upon the process in which you try and gather that, there can be a lag time, but one of the things that we do, for example, is two to three times a year we conduct very, very comprehensive surveys.  We talk directly to the NASCAR fans, and we have dozens of questions that we will ask them to try and gauge their acceptance, as broad as their acceptance of Toyota and the sport of NASCAR, to as specific as what do you think about the new 2014 Camry, what do you think about the new Tundra.  We are very proud to be a part of NASCAR and the Air Titan 2, for example, that debuted this past weekend in Martinsville.  So we collect that information, and then we analyze it.
We don't have any scientific data at this point.  It's anecdotal.  Certainly going to most of the races and talking to the fans at the track, the reception has been very, very positive, and we'd expect that trend to continue.
JAMIE ALLISON:  I'd like to add some comments to that, and that is obviously with the advent of digital social media, I think today at Ford Racing we have 1.5 million followers on Facebook, and obviously between Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and all those social platforms, we have observed‑‑ first of all, the postings from the fans are now more frequent and you can just feel, read the enthusiasm that's in the postings regardless of the outcome because inevitably what's going on in these races, a lot of lead changes.  Like back in Martinsville I think there was 31 changes for the lead, which is a record down at Martinsville.  I think that breeds a lot of affinity by the fans and it breeds a lot of posting, which we're able to see, and also we're able to track a lot of the mentions on Twitter, and we notice that now when we post in the circumstances where Carl or Brad when they've won, you can see the re‑Tweets and we can track some of those.  Those are higher verality (sic) than they've been in the past.  Clearly the fan base is energized and some of it is attributed to the escalation of digital social media in general with all the teams and all the drivers and NASCAR itself, which is pushing out a lot of that to digital social media.
And I believe the other aspect of that verality (sic) is coming from an energized fan base because these races are so much fun to watch, and there's all the activity going on on the racetrack, and inevitably when you're a fan, what do you do, you express yourself by posting and by tweeting, and we're seeing that obviously when their drivers are doing well, in this case if it's a Ford driver doing well or vice versa.
So we are seeing that, and we attribute that to the energy of the racing.
JIM CAMPBELL:  Just briefly I'm going to echo what both David and Jamie mentioned.  One thing that we observed when we introduced the new Chevrolet SS in Las Vegas right before the banquet in 2012, 15 minutes after we raised the curtain on the car, Jeff Gordon drove out the Chevrolet‑branded car, the Chevrolet SS, and then the teams, basically we raised the curtain and showed one example from one of our four larger teams.  Within 15 minutes the No.1 trending topic on Twitter was Chevy SS in the hashtag format.
So that was a good sign, and what we found is people are just relating to it more.  It's more relatable, and that's why I go back to the point about product relevance.  We have to have relevance what we race on the track in terms of technology and the cars that we race there linked to the cars we sell in the showroom.  And also there's also been some interesting data, directional data, I think from the NASCAR fan poll or rather their council, where they do surveys on a regular basis where they're relating more to the car than they did previously, which is great, and from a manufacturer's standpoint at Chevrolet, we're thrilled about that, and we also see similar benefits on the social media side for sure.
But the other thing is this is the day we ask are there cars that you'd be interested in buying from Gen‑5 to Gen‑6, we see a significant increase in the number of customers saying, yes, I'd be interested in buying that car.  The whole adage, win on Sunday, sell on Monday, it's still true, it just takes a long time to earn customers, to get on their shopping lists.  It always depends on which Monday.  Could be the first Monday after the race, it could be a week from then, it could be a month or a year from then.  Our job is to really relate to what we're racing on the track to what we sell in the showroom and give fans great excitement on the track, and then also for fans that go to the track, at the midways we have a chance to literally show our production, Chevrolet SS, and our Race SS, and make that connection, and good things happen when fans can really get up close.

Q.  David has already addressed this question, so I guess this goes to Jamie and Jim:  If there is an engine change next year or if there is a reduction in horsepower, how much will your companies become involved in that, or will that be strictly a team‑focused issue?
JIM CAMPBELL:  What I would say is the approach that we took on the development of the Gen‑6, we're using a very collaborative approach between the manufacturers and NASCAR from the sanctioning body's perspective on really discussing what are the options, what are the ideas, and in the end depending on where that ends up, it will impact how much work happens at the manufacturer versus the teams.  The key is we keep the racing exciting, and then we make every resource we apply to the engines and the engine builds go as far possible.  That's really the key.
KERRY THARP:  That's all the time we have today.  These gentlemen are very, very busy, and we appreciate them taking the time to join us.  We certainly wish them the continued best wishes and good luck for the remainder of this race season.  I want to thank the media for joining us today.  We appreciate your participation and your coverage of our sport on a daily basis.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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