So what IS a "tree hugger," anyway?

According to a Cadillac executive quoted in The Detroit News a week ago, it's someone who never buys luxury cars.

That phrase leaped out at us from an otherwise pro forma article in which General Motors executives said the company's sales hadn't been affected by the ongoing ignition-key safety recall.

The interior of the upcoming Cadillac ELR

The interior of the upcoming Cadillac ELR

Uwe Ellinghaus, Cadllac's marketing chief, was discussing sales of the Cadillac luxury brand, and its plans for future plug-in cars.

He argued that those vehicles would have to provide "added value for the price" while maintaining the performance and luxury expected of the brand.

But, Ellinghaus said, “These are not cars for tree-huggers, as tree-huggers do not buy new luxury cars."

OK, then.

We might riposte that it appears 25,000 or so U.S. luxury-car buyers have opted for the Tesla Model S in almost two years.

RELATED: Wait, Tesla Owners And Fans Don't Care So Much About Green?

2013 Tesla Model S on Chilcotin Highway, Canada [photo: owner Vincent Argiro]

2013 Tesla Model S on Chilcotin Highway, Canada [photo: owner Vincent Argiro]

While it's true that many Tesla owners index lower on environmental interest than buyers of other plug-in electric cars, we'd suggest there are likely far more photovoltaic solar panels to be seen on their homes than on the homes of Cadillac buyers as a whole.

Part of that is due to greater general environmental awareness in California, a state in which Cadillac has struggled for decades to compete with German luxury brands.

In the end, the flat declaration by Ellinghaus shows just how complicated marketing of plug-in cars proves to be.

More than three years after it was launched, most car buyers still don't understand the Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car.

MORE: Green Car People: Who Buys Electric And Plug-In Vehicles?

And, in fact, it turns out there are up to five different motivations to buy a plug-in electric car: early adoption, environmental interest, electric-car technology, energy security, and lower lifetime ownership cost.

That's complicated, and it challenges auto marketers in ways they've never seen before.

Meanwhile, we also note that Cadillac has resorted to paying car shoppers $100 simply to test-drive a Cadillac.

DON'T MISS: Ominous Sign For 2014 Cadillac ELR: Half Of Dealers Turn It Down

So if you're curious about any of its cars--particularly the $75,000 Cadillac ELR range-extended electric luxury coupe--there's your chance to test-drive one and have the carmaker pay for your lunch in the bargain.

If you can find a Cadillac dealer who carries the ELR, anyhow--half of the country's Cadillac dealers don't plan to sell the ELR at all.


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