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  • Peter MacKay

A Sport Utility Vehicle

Why SUVs and crossovers need to be incorporated in the WRC

3 years ago, rally fans hailed the arrival of spectacular, new WRC machines. Boasting nearly 400 horsepower and aggressive aerodynamics, these humble shopping cars morphed into prototype monsters. For many, it was the revival of Group B. Breath-taking speed returned to the stages.

Coupled with WRC’s excellent live streaming service, the ‘2017’ cars injected adrenaline into the WRC. All this drama wasn’t cheap though, close to 1 million euros per car. As a result, only Mads Ostberg braved running a privateer 2017 WRC car. A year later the car was for sale.

Unsurprisingly, in the elite environment of 1-million-euro rally cars, only large manufacturers can afford membership. However, like any demanding investor, return is paramount.

As we enter a new decade, the automotive industry embarks on its greatest challenge in generations. Automotive giants must bear the growing pains of introducing complex technology, even when supporting infrastructure is currently inadequate.

Visit the UK homepage of any WRC manufacturer’s website and you’ll find an electric or hybrid SUV. Nearly all manufacturers are promoting embryonic hybrid technology.

For current, and prospective manufacturer entrants, hybrid technology is a dealbreaker for approving a WRC programme. Implementing hybrid technology in the WRC, is obvious. From 2022, new gen ‘Rally1’ cars will be powered by the current ‘GRE’ engine and a hybrid system supplied by Compact Dynamics.

However, there is yet another way to strengthen the WRC pitch to manufacturers.

Not only the propulsion of our cars is changing, but their form too. Demand for traditionally shaped saloon and estate cars continues to diminish. Mondeo man has become Qashqai man. SUVs (Sport utility vehicles) and ‘crossovers’ now dominate our roads.

WRC’s current manufacturer’s product ranges are littered with SUV/crossovers. Ford has four, Hyundai and Toyota have three each. Most with hybrid or electric options.

Undoubtedly, 2022’s radical WRC ruleset aims to lure manufacturers with a cost-effective platform to promote hybrid vehicles.

TV advertisements for SUV/crossovers typically involve a young family trundling down a rugged track, ready for adventure. Surfboard on the roof, labradoodle in the boot, kids in the back, Disney soundtrack on the Spotify audio system. Utilising their vehicle for sport and discovery. In reality, the toughest terrain these vehicles endure is a trip to the skip. Still, customers flock to showrooms in their droves to buy them.

Introducing SUV/crossovers in the WRC could be vital to engaging manufacturers. Previous WRC superpowers like Subaru, Mitsubishi, Volkswagen, Peugeot and Audi all churn out seemingly endless new SUV/crossover models. All these brands must be courted to return to the WRC. Another brand with rich racing heritage and a highly lucrative SUV portfolio also comes to mind. Porsche.

In 2019, Porsche sold 280800 cars. 191999 of those were SUVs. Porsche’s bestselling Macan SUV contributes 100,000 units per year. High volumes plus high value equals enormous profit. 4.4 billion euros to be exact.

Porsche are no strangers to rallying. In 1965, the German marque debuted the 911 in competition at the Monte Carlo rally. In 1968, Vic Elford triumphed in the same event in a 911 following a European crown in 1967. Two Dakar wins followed with the 959 and 953. Today, eccentric privateers occasionally campaign RGT 911 rally cars. Most memorably Francois Delecour in a Tuthill Porsche on ‘The Monte’.

Given the Macan’s contribution to Porsche’s bottom line, a case can easily be made for this premium compact SUV, and its competitors, to go rallying. Since the Macan’s launch, every premium manufacturer has attempted to replicate Porsche’s winning formula.

Durability, style, high performance and off-road capability. A swiss army knife car. This is the brief for a premium SUV. Why not make it the brief for a World Rally Championship car?

Most SUV’s share underpinnings with cheaper, smaller cars within a manufacturer’s portfolio. Yet, they command a premium. SUVs make fiscal sense for manufacturers, yielding stronger profit margin. Therefore, marketing activities behind such vehicles can afford to be extravagant. A World Rally Championship campaign, for example. A better way to promote a vehicles speed, toughness and off-road capabilities you won’t find.

To discover more about the 2022 WRC regulations debate, follow the link below to listen to the latest episode of The Peter MacKay Motorsport Podcast:

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