August 4, 2010
By Peter M. De Lorenzo
(Posted 8/4, 8:00AM) Detroit. You know that when such automotive “experts” as Rush Limbaugh start weighing-in on the Chevrolet Volt – complete with his misinformed and wildly off-base knee-jerk-isms in full bloom - the electric car hysteria in this country has reached critical mass. That Limbaugh has no idea as to what the Volt represents or the first clue as to how it operates is not a surprise, but it’s clear that he’s not alone, and that GM marketers have their work cut out for them.
It’s important to remember that both sides of the political spectrum have clearcut agendas when talking about the Volt. On the conservative Right, it’s the anti-bailout, anti-“subsidized” GM (and Detroit), and anti-anything Obama fervor that encapsulates the frenzy. To this faction the Volt is nothing short of e-v-i-l and represents everything wrong and bad about the current administration and the direction of the country itself.
While on the Left, we have that mind-numbing, “we know what’s best for you and you will like it” smugness that envisions the sheer joy that will result after American consumers are forced to embrace mass electrification overnight, even though for more than 85 percent of the country it makes zero sense. And yet this group will be delirious over the fact that after an entire nation is brought literally to its knees by woefully misguided policies based upon theoretical, “best case” scenarios rather than functional, real-world realities, a Shiny Happy Green Nirvana will result overnight and it will be Good.
Given the “noise” generated by both of these factions, it will be a miracle if the American consumer public can ferret through the cacophony and discover what the Volt is – and what it could mean and how it could perform – for their day-to-day driving regimen.
Clearly the whole “range anxiety” factor will loom large in the consideration process. That most consumers view the Volt as just another one of those electric golf carts that are all the buzz of late shouldn’t be a surprise. GM has pounded out the fact that the Volt goes 40 miles without a charge and to most consumers that doesn’t sound like much, even though if they actually analyzed their daily driving they’d discover that in an urban setting that figure would suit them just fine.
But while hammering the “40 miles per charge” figure into consumers’ heads, GM has failed to make a big enough deal about the fact that that the Volt is an extended range electric vehicle, and that the onboard engine will allow you to maintain enough of a battery charge to go a very long way.
It’s easy to see why marketing the Volt will be such a monumental challenge. First of all, the political hand grenades lobbed in from the sides and the relentless posturing will never go away, and GM marketers would be best served by steering far clear of that noise. If they think they can “spin” the spin-meisters they’re sadly mistaken, so instead they better go after the consumer intenders intrigued by the concept, the people who will have the power to make or break the Volt, because without the warm embrace of these early adopter/zealots the Volt will never get out of the gate.
And secondly, GM has to avoid – as much as possible – the whole “electrification of our driving future” angle, because in reality the electrification of the American automobile – the concept that has the left-leaning pundits in such a frothing frenzy – remains a distant pipe dream and one conducive to urban areas only. And this will be true for a long, long time to come, as much as the “finger-snap” experts out there suggest otherwise.
No, the Chevrolet Volt – at least for the time being – will be the ultimate niche vehicle of this young century. It will have limited appeal to a limited number of consumers in limited parts of the country, and it will all work out just fine if GM marketers remember that, even though the natural tendency will be to shout from the rooftops that the Volt is nothing short of the reinvention of the automobile..
And just for the record, for some consumers the Volt will be the greatest thing since sliced bread, and that’s fine, man, as The Dude would say, but it doesn’t mean that feeling will automatically translate beyond the first-on-the-block frenzy.
The bottom line?
Somewhere in this kaleidoscope of hysteria GM has to figure out how to market an extended-range electric vehicle called the Chevrolet Volt. And somehow – as GM marketing chief Joel Ewanick has rightly suggested – GM has to convince a skeptical American consumer public that it’s a real car, and not a marketing gimmick or a toy.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
See another live episode of "Autoline After Hours" hosted by Autoline Detroit's John McElroy, with Peter De Lorenzo and friends this Thursday evening, at 7:00PM EDT at www.autolinedetroit.tv.
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