The Chevy Bolt EV is finally about to hit the road, and it seems to be a great car. It’s already winning lots of awards, including Motor Trend’s Car of the Year and the Green Car of the Year award. But GM, via their European subsidiary Opel, is already showing signs of the same tone-deaf sales strategy that has relegated their Volt to second-or-third place in sales behind much more expensive (Model S) or range-limited (Leaf) models.
Their new ad for the Ampera-e, the European version of the Bolt EV, depicts some cockroaches trying to cross a road in the countryside, thinking that they will be safe because they’ll hear any cars coming and that they’re far enough from the city that they won’t have to worry about a quiet EV sneaking up on them, as no EV has the range to get that far. Then one of the cockroaches is squished by a fast-moving Bolt EV’s tire.
So the idea was to highlight the Bolt’s class-leading range and smooth, quiet operation. But the problem is that, in doing so, they put a negative light on both aspects of the car, rather than a positive one.
First, the range issue. The Bolt’s class-leading range at a reasonable price point is definitely something for GM to be proud of. Unfortunately, rather than focusing on the Bolt as a car which really does put all but the most high-mileage drivers at complete ease in terms of range, the ad brings to mind the falsehood that EVs are somehow incapable of reaching certain parts of the world by saying that EVs can’t go very far out of cities. Of course, this is clearly not true, as we’ve seen in multiple around-the-world journeys by EVs, and with public charger databases that show plenty of plugs outside of cities.
Second, the noise issue. Quiet operation is one of the huge benefits of EVs. Not having an engine idling underneath you, shaking the car around, droning on and on, adding stress and unpleasantness to your commute—these are things that will make drivers healthier, happier, and quite probably even more attentive while driving. Even gas cars are moving towards more quiet operation with sound-deadening inside the cabin, controlling engine vibration, and start-stop devices that stop engines from idling while slowing down or stopped at a light—yet, strangely, they don’t have to comply with new government rules that mandate adding noise to quiet cars.
The rules are being implemented because of the irrational fear that electric vehicles are somehow uniquely dangerous to pedestrians. EVs are quiet, yes, particularly so at slow speeds. But at high speeds—like the speed the Bolt was driving in the ad—an EV sounds exactly like a gas vehicle, as road and wind noise are the same regardless of what powertrain drives the vehicle. The only time EVs are difficult to hear is at extremely low speeds, under 5-10mph, which are incidentally the safest, because braking distances are negligible at low speeds, drivers are often paying more attention when they’re looking for parking or watching for pedestrians, and lower speed collisions are less dangerous anyway. Not only that, but at these low speeds, again, many of today’s gas vehicles shut off their engines, either due to hybrid systems or engine start-stop systems meant to improve fuel efficiency.
And finally—how can you advertise a car without even showing a single picture of it? All we get is about two frames of 1/10th of a tire. Don’t be ashamed to show your car, GM. The car looks fine. Some people don’t like it, but certainly everyone is going to want to see it before they buy it.
So it seems as if GM has made some missteps in this ad. Instead of highlighting the positives of their vehicle, it inadvertently brings to mind two commonly-believed but untrue negatives of EVs. It’s a bit reminiscent of a Volt ad which I heard play on NPR a few years ago, where they described the Volt as “more car than electric,” as if electric was something to be ashamed of—especially for NPR listeners, who presumably would be into that sort of thing.
So come on, GM. Be proud of your car. Give us some better ads. It’s a great car—really, you’ve done well. Now advertise it as such. Show us something like this great Spark EV ad, which points out that it has more torque than a Ferrari 458. That’s the kind of ad we need for this car—which, incidentally, is quite a bit quicker than the Spark EV.