General Motors president Mark Reuss penned a missive on CNN’s website titled, “Electric Cars Won’t Go Mainstream Until We Fix These Problems.” This title conveys three things:
- Electric vehicles have big problems
- They’re not suitable for the “mainstream,” aka most people, and
- GM will fix (future tense) these problems, and normal people should just stand by until GM says so.
Below we deconstruct this corporate PR hit piece and take a look at who it’s coming from.
Who is GM president Mark Reuss?
In 1986, Mark Reuss’ father, Lloyd Reuss, was an executive vice president at GM’s North America passenger cars group. Also in 1986, Mark got a job with GM straight out of college. His father Lloyd was GM president from 1990 to 1992.
In January 2019, Mark Reuss was named president of GM. According to a profile by CNBC’s Paul Eisenstein published in January 2019, Mark Reuss “is wont to say he has ‘gasoline in his blood’.” That same profile quoted Joe Phillippi, head of AutoTrends Consulting, as saying Mark Reuss “had too many hats to start with,” questioning how Mark could add “president” to his duties while retaining his product development roles. In October 2019, Mark Reuss took on additional leadership roles.
What is GM up to here?
A PSYOP is defined as “an operation to convey selected information and indicators to audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior.”
GM’s public affairs team masterfully pushes a paradigm where, instead of a world populated with “people who need to buy a car,” there are instead people who are “EV owners” (eccentrics) and people who are “non-EV owners” (normal people, the audience for this article). Each very different creatures. For the EV owners, the environmental benefit is listed as the first thing they enjoy, with other customer-focused qualities as also-rans. Note the framing: These are things they enjoy, but probably not you, dear reader of Mark Reuss’ CNN op-ed, aka a “normal” person.
Mark then asks, “But what about non-EV owners? Will they want to buy electric?” Before he answers, he offers this wild distortion: “About 25 years ago, when we first considered getting into the electric vehicle business with a small car that had about 70 miles of range, the answer was no.” Mark is referring to the EV1. The false narrative that customers weren’t interested in the EV1 was thoroughly debunked by the movie “Who Killed the Electric Car?”
Immediately after this distortion, Mark goes in for the kill, writing that non-EV owners “want vehicles that can match gasoline-powered vehicles in range, ease of ownership, and cost. The sooner we can break down these three critical barriers, the sooner electric cars will become mainstream.” (Emphasis added.)
Mark’s messaging on all three barriers to the non-EV owner is, “Just wait, don’t buy an EV yet.”
Headlines like Mark’s negatively impact EV adoption. EVs are an excellent choice for most Americans already, and the critical barrier holding back EV adoption is a lack of consumer education.
But it may be more accurate to say now that consumer miseducation is the critical barrier.
Corporate public affairs teams know that admitting to being anti-something serves to embolden challenges from new competitors, mobilize grassroots advocacy against you, and invite scrutiny from policy makers and regulators. But saying “just wait a few years” is a savvy public relations move in order to quench the threat from all those groups.
In 2005 (Mark was a GM executive director), GM said it aimed to have “a production-ready hydrogen vehicle by 2010.” In 2005, GM and Toyota discussed how they would collaborate to make fuel cells. Now it’s almost 2020, and Toyota is still flogging the “wait a bit longer for fuel cells” shtick.
In October 2017, GM outlined its “All-Electric Path to Zero” and promised, “In the next 18 months, GM will introduce two new all-electric vehicles based off learnings from the Chevrolet Bolt EV.” Eighteen months came and went, and those new post-Bolt EVs never materialized, as Electrek reported in April. They still haven’t, nor is there any sign of it happening. But they killed the Volt and are now supporting big cutbacks in emissions standards –– if you want to know where GM really stands on EVs.
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