What's Wrong With Chevy Volt Ads & How To Fix Them

Follow Richard

People are rarely lukewarm about the Chevrolet Volt.

Like health-care reform or pajama jeans, the Volt inspires love, loathing, and little in-between.

That hasn't exactly helped Volt sales, which aren't yet living up to expectations, but fans insist that the car itself isn't the problem. They blame the bewildering array of ads for the Volt.

And in a way, they're right.

Here's the thing: the Chevy Volt is a stunning piece of technology. It combines the eco-friendliness and efficiency of an electric car with the range and practicality of a gas-powered sedan.

In normal use, drivers won't need the gas engine to kick in because they'll travel fewer than the 40 miles the Volt can go on a full charge. 

What's more, the Volt has arrived at exactly the moment that high technology has seeped into every corner of our daily lives. We have an increasing amount of control over our living and work environments thanks to a growing pile of smartphones, smart TVs, tablet computers, and cloud-based software.

Chevy has taken full advantage of these developments, allowing users to manage the Volt remotely, check on battery charge, and so on. 

This is precisely the problem.

What ads can do (and what they can't)

Consumers still get much of their information about new products from television, where the standard ad is 30 seconds long. You can't do much in 30 seconds -- certainly not much explaining or education.

The best that advertisers can hope to do in 30 seconds is create an emotional attachment to a brand by appealing to something beyond words, beyond logic. This is why ads with babies and puppies work so well: we're predisposed to like cute, cuddly creatures, and that sentiment carries over to the products with which they're associated.

To cite a recent example from Subaru: we like dogs, therefore, we're inclined to like the cars they drive.  

The problem is, the Volt has a lot of explaining to do. How does that powertrain work? Is my battery going to go dead and leave me stranded? How do I keep tabs on my car from a distance? And why should I pay $40,000 (or $32,500 after federal tax credits) for a midsize sedan when there are plenty of cheaper offerings on the market?

2012 Chevrolet Volt

2012 Chevrolet Volt

Enlarge Photo

There's no way that GM can cram all that information into one 30-second spot.

Frankly, it would require a half-hour infomercial to explain all the Volt's bells and whistles, and you know who watches half-hour infomercials? Neither do we, but chances are, they aren't in the Volt demographic.

Unfortunately, GM's marketing team has spent a lot of time and effort touting the Volt's features rather than its fun factor.

Industry advocate Chelsea Sexton explains: "Automakers need to remember that vehicles -- including plug-ins -- are an emotional purchase.

"Today's marketing is geared to why people should want an EV, instead of why they will, resulting in ads that frame EVs more as appliances instead of the fun cars that they are."

The Nissan Leaf has it easy

Compared to the Volt, marketing a fully electric ride like the Nissan Leaf is a walk in the park.

Remember the first Leaf ad -- the one with the cute, cuddly trained polar bear? What did it have to explain? The Leaf runs on electricity, saving the planet from global warming.

Nissan Leaf 'polar bear' ad

Nissan Leaf 'polar bear' ad

Enlarge Photo

No extended-range powertrain, no high-tech gizmos: 11 words pretty much says it all.

Contrast that with the Volt's "Morning in Hamtramck" ad we saw just a couple of weeks ago.

Like Chrysler's "Halftime" spot that aired during the Super Bowl, it aims to forge an emotional bond between viewers and the Volt brand, but as fans point out, it does absolutely nothing to explain the Volt's features.

Canadians claim that GM's work across the border has been much better at hyping the Volt.

Follow Us

Comments (13)
  1. As a volt owner for over a year now, plus the EV1 for 3 years, and a veteran promo editor during the Fred Silverman years at NBC I can market the Volt with my eyes closed. Just give me the job. I'll do it for a dollar.

  2. There's a challenge Jeff. Show us what you can do -- but we can't pay! :)

  3. Considering the amount of pre-production press coverage received by the Volt, no one can blame the God-awful sales figures on any lack of public knowledge. GM failed on many counts : 1) the car looks nothing like the original concept, which generated tons of enthusiasm from prospective buyers, myself included, only to evaporate when GM restyled the car, which they had to do to enable a 40 mile target, since they apparently didn't know much about aero effects and its effect on driving range. 2) they quoted a price of "under $30K" which turned out to be nowhere near the final figure. 3) they promised a 10 year warranty on the battery pack. The technology is pure Rube Goldberg and more or less obsolete at this point.

  4. Lutz is a synonym for blunder.

  5. "Because of its forward-thinking technology..."

    20 years from now we'll be laughing at the idea of a car with 2 different motors in it. It's not forward thinking, it's an inefficient stopgap measure on the way to something simpler, more effective, and cheaper (both to manufacture and to maintain).

    The Volt's technological complexity is not an asset, it's a liability.

    And the name is terrible. :-)

  6. "The Volt's technological complexity is not an asset, it's a liability."

    That's it in a nutshell, really.

  7. Inefficient? Really, I'd say the actual car owners might disagree. You know, the ones who average 400 MPG since they can drive mostly in EV mode. As for the complexity, I know Americans aren't known for our brilliance, but having a vehicle switch seamlessly between EV and ICE modes doesn't seem that baffling now, does it?

    As for the price, only purchase price matters, right? $41k-$7.5k for tax credits sounds like $33.5k to me, already cheaper than my A4. Add in roughly $7k-$8k in fuel savings from an 80/20 EV/ICE mix and based on $4/gallon fuel costs and 15k miles and my local off-peak hour electrcity rates... Yeah, that $26k-$27k for new technology is ridiculous, isn't it...? Prius-like, but better styling to me. & more EV range, too.

  8. The problem with Volt sales is it's a Chevy. Imagine if the same specs were offered by Toyota - the car would be sold out. The initial buyers of EVs are high-tech, green consumers and would never want to be caught driving in a Chevy.

    Remember the Volkswagen Phaeton, one of the best luxury sedans ever built (seriously rivaling the Maybach)? The problem with it was no buyer would ever spend $100k on a Volkswagen.

  9. I've posted this elsewhere. Volt marketing is easy. You have real Volt customers explain why they love their Volt. "Last month I got 238 MPG in my Volt! I can really crank up my music without all that engine noise! I've only filled the tank once since I owned it and I've driven 4650 miles!" That will tell the public what real people are experiencing with their Volts and get them into the showroom with questions. A commercial doesn't sell a car it just gets people into the showroom to try one. The saleperson can go through the complexities of the car.

  10. No question they have made a lot of mistakes. I think many of these have stemmed from complicated machinations to avoid using the term hybrid. Granted they had reasons to avoid the term, they were not seen as leaders in hybrid tech and they had made statements about the Prius as a "Geek-Mobile". However, I think they could have avoided a lot of confusion if they had just called it "a better hybrid; one that you can plug-in". The Hybrid term has public understanding/acceptance, they could leverage this. The techies will still dig in to understand the details of "voltec" and the average joes can get the simple message "electric for 35 miles, then gas."

    "Plug-in anywhere, Drive anywhere" was their best one IMHO.

  11. Just say it's a pure electric car until you need to drive more than 40 miles....than the gas engine kicks in... that takes about 5 seconds to say. Just say it.


  12. Forget about explaining technology and what the car can or can't do. If you have 30 sec. just sell the Volt like ANY OTHER CAR in the market. Period. no need to explain why the battery does this or that, leave the explanations for when the potential buyer makes the emotional connection and starts doing some more research. Something like "lease the exceptionally fuel efficient Chevy Volt for less than $300 a month" should suffice. And show it in every ad where different Chevy models are offered. Why isn't the Volt shown when they show the Cruze next to the Malibu and the Silverado? Stop making it a "special" car (although this is more than a great car) and make it look more like a regular car (although it isn't) to push sales.

  13. I have to say that I was a skeptic but recently purchased a Volt - 2013. As a Toyota Camry Hybrid owner I know a little about gas saving vehicles and the Toyota brand as well. I test drove cars from all makes and models prior to making the call. After one month of Volt ownership, I have to say that the Chevy Volt is a great car and I made the right call. I think that the idea of having Volt owners give short testimonials on their experience would do it. 1050 miles on 1.5 gal of gas for my 44-50 mile daily commute is amazing. If I plug in on 110v (Normal US outlet) at my employer I don't have to burn any gas at all for the commute to an from work. Searching out charge stations in Austin Texas is also an interesting / fun side benefit.

Commenting is closed for old articles.

Get FREE Dealer Quotes

From dealers near you

Find Green Cars


© 2015 Green Car Reports. All Rights Reserved. Green Car Reports is published by High Gear Media. Send us feedback. Stock photography by izmo, Inc.