Monday, January 23, 2006

Ford Announces Plant Closings, Job Losses as Toyota Confirms NASCAR Nextel Cup Plans

Could there be a more appropriate juxtaposition?

Ford Motor Co. announces it is downsizing by closing up to nine plants and laying off as many as 30,000 white and blue collar workers.

Analysts predict Ford's share of the domestic auto market will shrink to 17 percent this year.

On the same day, Toyota, which is threatening to overtake General Motors Corporation as the world's largest automaker, confirms what has been clearly coming for several years - race cars that look vaguely like the Japanese firm's top selling family sedan will be in the starting lineup at the 2007 Daytona 500 and will be a regular competitor thereafter in America's most popular form of motorsports.

It was clear when Toyota joined the Craftsman Truck Series three years ago that it was just a matter of time before the Nextel Cup would see the first non-American firm competing on the big circuit.

Toyota will also be backing teams competing in Camrys in NASCAR's Busch Series, the sedan series a notch below the Nextel events, which for years was known as the Winston Cup. Toyota will continue supporting its teams in the truck series.

"'It's a great pleasure to announce Toyota's entry into the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup and Busch Series with the Toyota Camry,' said Dave Illingworth, senior vice president and chief planning and administrative officer for Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

"'Next year - 2007 - will be a special year for Toyota in more ways than one. Toyota will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in the United States, and we will be joining the NASCAR NEXTEL CUP Series, America's premier racing series.

"'Toyota has been an important part of the U.S. motorsports community for almost 25 years. We've competed and won in different series and on tracks across America. Toyota drivers and teams have won championships in a variety of different series. But, if you want to compete against the best, in America that means NASCAR.

"We look forward to February of 2007 when the green flag waves to start the Daytona 500 and the starting lineup features the Toyota Camry."

NASCAR is, of course, ecstatic about the fact Toyota's silhouette racing Camrys will join the silhouette racers from Chevrolet, Ford and Dodge on the Nextel circuit.

"'NASCAR welcomes Toyota to the greatest auto racing in the world,' said NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France, who made the announcement on Monday at NASCAR'S Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C.

"'Toyota's entry into the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series and the NASCAR Busch Series is good for drivers, teams and the fans. This move provides for even more intense competition on the track between drivers and manufacturers, which will provide more excitement and fan interest. Toyota's entry also provides more options for drivers and teams, which will increase the competition between manufacturers.'"

You can read the full Toyota statement here. The NASCAR statement is here. You can read what some of the good ole boys are already saying about the prospect of racing against Camrys here.

Toyota has for years backed teams competing in professional road racing series like the Camel GTP Series, as well as the CART, Formula 1 and IRL open-wheel racing series.

Can you imagine Curtiss Turner, Cale Yarborough or Junior Johnson winning the Daytona 500 and doing the hat dance in Victory Lane while proclaiming:

"That's right, Mr. Economaki, the Nippon Industries/Toshiba Computers/ Toyota Camry flat blew the doors off them ole Chivvies and Fawds and Dahjas today. Eat my dust, Jeff Gordon, ya little Yankee twerp!"

Yep, it's going to be real interesting at Daytona in February next year!