Electric Currents

My Love/Hate Relationship with GM's EV Advertising

Feb 11, 2014

Some car companies just seem to have a knack for turning out really good television commercials for their electric cars. GM isn't one of them.

Back nearly twenty years ago now, early adopters of General Motor's groundbreaking EV1electric car were perplexed by the automotive giant's advertising strategy and execution. Here was a fun, fast little electric two-seater that they came to dearly love despite early battery range issues. Most found the car more than met their daily driving needs, often pointing out that months would go by before they even bothered to fire up their parked gasoline burners.

Despite the clear advantages of charging at home, never having to visit a gasoline station, and generally blowing the doors off gas cars as the light turned green, they collectively shook their heads in disbelief at how GM advertised the car, when they advertised the car. Instead of extolling its virtues, their advertising agency created a bizarre little spot about animated electrical appliances. Strange stuff, for sure.

Then GM decided to kill the program and the rest is, as they say, history. Most EV1s were crushed, Chris Paine became a minor celebrity for producing 'Who Killed the Electric Car?' and Martin Eberhard and Mark Tappening decided to launch Tesla, which, incidentally, has never aired a single paid commercial television spot and still ended up recently ranked as the #5 car brand in America by Consumer Reports.

So, when GM got around to launching their next electric car, the Chevrolet Volt, they decided to focus on its non-EV-ness starting, as memory serves, with a bit of humor as demonstrated by the following 30-second spot.

Gas Station Stop

Perhaps less memorable, but certainly more to the point, GM then began interviewing owners like Kory Levoy, who bought his last GM car, from the looks of him, as a teenager in the mid-1970s. Between then and now, he'd driven primarily European and Japanese models. The Volt was his first GM-manufactured car in nearly 40 years.

Owner Testimonial

Most recently, the message has again swung around to emphasizing how much better the Volt's electric hybrid drive system is than a pure electric. This new spot, a father and son are cross the barren American southwest and the boy asks what happens if the battery runs out of electricity, clearly a slam at pure EVs. Well, replied the father they'd have to cross a burning desert filled with snakes and cactus, just as the car switches to hybrid mode at exactly 45 miles.

The New Freedom

Okay… I get the point. They're clearly in a dog fight with Nissan's LEAF in month-to-month sales numbers. Still, it's a curious message for the company that produces the much-acclaimed Spark EV all-electric car and announces it plans to follow it with a battery powered car that has 200 miles of driving range.

An then there's the most recent offering, this one touting the Cadillac ELR, certainly a very stylish, but also very pricey version of the Volt. This one may be GM's most controversial to date. It features actor Neal McDonough as a successfully egotistical Silicon Valley tycoon living in a multi-million dollar home. He's clearly a member of the one-percent club. Watching it for the first time, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Something in me just wanted to bunch this a..hole.


In stark contrast to this condescending piece of callousness, I think my all-time favorite - at least up to this point - is Nissan's 'Tailpipes' spot featuring Lance Armstrong. Regardless of what you think of Lance in the light of his admission to doping, in my view the 30 second spot effectively gets across the central message of what EVs are about: what we called back in the day of the EV1, "Good, Clean Fun."


More Reasons to Love

Okay… I have to admit the Italian lawyer in the Fiat 500e "More Reasons to Love" spot is hot.

So, what's your favorite EV spot?

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