Selling Electric Cars, Hybrids: Does Saving Green Matter More Than Going Green?

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Nissan Leaf 'polar bear' ad

Nissan Leaf 'polar bear' ad

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Electric cars might have plenty of environmental benefits over their combustion cousins, carmakers are finding that angle a hard one to benefit from.

In fact, it's much more likely modern electric cars will be sold on the back of plain, simple cost savings, says Bloomberg.

It presents an unusual contrast with the advertising for cars like the hybrid Toyota Prius, which--despite using gasoline, where electric vehicles don't--has done quite well off the back of environmental marketing.

So why are electric automakers like Tesla, GM and Nissan pushing the economic benefits over environmental ones?

It wasn't always this way. Think back into the near past and you might remember Nissan's near-unwatchable polar bear-hugging ads. The company's early marketing put an emphasis on how much Mother Nature loved you for picking a Leaf.

That's all very well, but Mother Nature's endorsement has hardly seen Leafs flying out of the showroom.

With the latest 2013 Leaf, Nissan is planning a new range of commercials "with more practical messaging". The environmental benefits are implied, but the financial ones will stark--building on last year's $199 per month leasing deals.

"We’re focusing on the value and economic equation of having an EV" said Erik Gottfried, director of sales and marketing for the Leaf, in a recent interview, "...[and] what impact that would have on your household budget."

GM too has tried to push the Chevy Volt's day-to-day benefits--like the savings from plugging in and doing your commute on electricity--rather than its eco-credentials.

Compare that with the Toyota Prius.

2010 Toyota Prius

2010 Toyota Prius

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While no longer current, Toyota's 'Harmony' adverts for the Prius caused a stir back in 2009, a combination of live action and hippy-trippy computer graphics heavily playing on the car's environmental credentials.

And while the Prius offers very real financial benefits for those who buy the car--50 mpg combined is still better than virtually every other non-plugin--the car is still very much known as an "eco car", first and foremost. By those who love it and hate it.

With electric cars in their relative infancy on the market, and priced comparatively high like many a new product, electric automakers are perhaps having to work harder than their hybrid counterparts did to convince people the technology will save them money in the long run.

Even Tesla Motors is selling cars on the cost-saving benefits, to an extent.

It'd be playing devil's advocate to suggest that the company's alternative approach is exactly why it's possibly the highest-selling electric carmaker out there right now, but clever financing deals certainly make it seem more affordable than its relatively high list prices imply.

That, and it's simply proving to be an attractive product in the segment it's aimed at--with Model S cars actually outselling prestige German equivalents like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

At the lower end of the market companies like Nissan have it much tougher as far as cost-saving competition is concerned, and until pricing is within striking distance of equivalent internal combustion vehicles, environmental friendliness alone is a tough sell.

What do you think of electric car and hybrid marketing? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.


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