I keep hearing Chevy’s tagline for promoting the new Volt on the radio:
“It’s more car than electric”
And every time, I am deeply underwhelmed with GM’s lack of enthusiasm for its new product.
You know what it sounds like to me? It sounds like when Nikki Haley tells everyone that her children attend public schools. And then hastens to add that in her Lexington County district, the public school are like private schools. Kind of spoils the affirmation.
What ad wizard decided to say, in effect, “We know you don’t want an electric car any more than we want to make one for you. So rest assured, this is nothing cutting-edge, it’s way more like the sucky cars we’ve made in the past.”
While others out there get the idea that Americans (and the rest of the world; after all, it is a global economy) kind of like something new, something better — take Steve Jobs, who totally gets that people want something better than what they’re used to, something original and even exciting, something that enables them to do things they couldn’t do in the past — GM wants to make sure you don’t think they have any such notions.
The Chevrolet brand name is a major problem. Chevrolet stands out in the mind as a classic American brand. In its heyday, they built big steel cars that looked great and endlessly chugged gasoline. In fact, not even two years ago Chevy was running an awesome billboard campaign to reinforce this perception for a powerful and classically American car. Yet now the consumer is supposed to associate Chevy with a small car that can sip gas ever so slightly and still be great.
I doubt that that will happen, especially with the Volt’s current positioning strategy: “More Car Than Electric.” That positioning hardly screams out “Chevy is a small, fuel-efficient car.” Instead, Chevy is attempting the impossible task of fighting deep-rooted perceptions, specifically that small (and electric) cars are not powerful. For consumers, small and powerful are conflicting qualities in a car. Any consumer making judgments on vehicle horsepower or toughness will make a strong determination without even hearing so much as the sound of an engine. A simple eyeball test will tell them that a Chevy Volt is not “more car” than the significantly larger vehicle it’s parked next to. Trying to convince the American consumers otherwise is an exercise in futility.
And yet another one:
I have been waiting for the Volt since it was announced in January 2007. From what I have been able to read through October 2010, all of GM’s buzz about the Volt has been positive. So I was flabbergasted and deeply annoyed that GM should choose the slogan, “It’s more car than electric”, as their lead advertising catch-phrase. What a negative way to advertise GM’s outstanding engineering achievement!
One university student who knows my Volt advocacy — I wear a Volt tee-shirt during the summer — has asked me, “Is GM apologizing for this car?” Another asked, “Why would anyone want to buy it a Volt if GM is ashamed of the engineering that makes this car both unique and ecologically appealing?” I can’t answer them because this phrase is so out of character for the group that made this car and for potential customers like myself who have been cheering on GM since January 2007. Did this phrase arise from a focus group packed with folks who’d rather be driving a Cobalt or a Cruze?
Yeah, I get it that they’re thinking an electric car won’t have the range, or the pickup, that their 2000 Buick Regal with the supercharger (which I mention because, well, I own one) has. But it completely ignores that people likely to buy an electric car are looking for something completely different, something that gets them from point A to point B more efficiently, cheaper and without the harm to the planet and national security. People like that — or at least, like me — don’t even care if that something is a “car.” We actively, ardently want something different.
This approach is made even more ironic, sounds even more tone-deaf, because I hear it during the sponsor breaks on NPR news shows. Like you’ve got to apologize to that audience for making a break with the internal combustion engine. What ARE these people thinking?
(Oh, and why do I, the founder of the Energy Party, drive a 2000 Buick Regal with a supercharger? Because I could afford it, when I suddenly needed a car after my last truck spontaneously combusted one day on I-77. I could NOT afford a Prius, much less a hybrid Camry, which is what I really wanted. Of course, a fully electric car would have been even better. But I’m not likely to be able to afford one of those until someone comes out with a mass-production one and sells a LOT of them, and the technology keeps improving, and the prices drop, so I can pick me up a used one. In the meantime, I take my solace where I can — such as enjoying the sweet way my Regal zips around trucks on the Interstate when I engage the supercharger, which works the way the afterburner on a jet works, by dumping a lot of extra fuel into the burner. Primitive, and wasteful, and foolish, but also exciting — sort of like tossing a water balloon full of gasoline onto a campfire. OOPS, I did it again — another error. It’s corrected below, in the comments…
But GM doesn’t get the likely customer for an electric car. And I wonder whether it ever will.