BMW engineering pushes U.S. bobsled team to the top

BMW has designed the U.S. team's bobsleds for Sochi.
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The U.S. men’s bobsled team hasn’t won a gold medal in the two-man competition in more than 80 years, but with some help from sponsor BMW, they’re expected to be in contention in Sochi when the event gets under way Sunday.

BMW has pulled off one of the most effective sponsor integrations at the Sochi Winter Games. Its North American design group, which is based in California, moved the center of gravity in the U.S. sleds, making them more snug and more aerodynamic, as well as personalized the steering for driver Steve Holcomb.

“If you look at our sled, it’s radically different than other sleds,” said Holcomb, who won gold in the four-man bobsled at the Vancouver Games. “We have a lot of eyeballs on us.”

The new sled has been faster than what the U.S. team was driving before. It helped the team win the first World Championship in two-man bobsled in U.S. history last year.

Holcomb has added some mystery to the bobsled, covering it up on the way to the event, and that mystery combined with the U.S. team’s success has given BMW’s sponsorship of Team USA and USA Bobsled great exposure.

Coming into the Olympics, BMW garnered coverage of its work on CBS and ABC’s morning shows and in national newspapers (The New York Times) and magazines (Outside, Popular Mechanics).

“It has exceeded my expectations,” said Trudy Hardy, BMW North America’s vice president of marketing. “People can really grab onto this one. They get it. It’s easy to understand: ‘Of course BMW can make a fast sled.’”

The interest in BMW’s work was so strong and the story of its design team’s efforts to overhaul the sled so compelling that BMW made it the focal point of its Winter Games activation. It developed a 22-minute documentary, “Driving on Ice,” that tells the story of its collaboration with USA Bobsled.

“We wanted to make sure the world knew our story of why we decided to do this,” Hardy said. “It’s something you can’t tell in 30 seconds. There was such a rich story that it needed longer-form content.”

The video, which BMW developed with its agency Universal McCann, aired on NBC on Jan. 15 and drew 1.1 million viewers. NBC also posted it on NBCOlympics.com and its website for on-demand viewing. BMW dealers across the U.S. are showing it on TVs in their waiting area during the Games.

Bobsled is a bit like NASCAR — a proving ground where auto manufacturers can showcase their technological expertise. In Sochi, BMW will be going head-to-head with Ferrari, which is helping the Italians; McLaren, which is helping the Brits; and Audi, which is supporting the Germans.

But the German automaker believes in the sled it made for Team USA so much that it developed a 30-second spot around it that’s running on NBC during the Sochi Games. It also is promoting the launch of several new cars, including a new BMW X5 and M235.

BMW credited its promotions around Team USA during the London Games with helping sell more than 6,000 new cars. Hardy said she expects Sochi marketing around the bobsled to offer another bump in sales.

 “It’s tracking at a better pace because it’s better connected to our product launches, which makes the dealers happy,” Hardy said.

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Related Topics:

BMW Inc., Olympics

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