It's no secret among owners of the Chevy Volt range-extended electric car that the innovative car's advertising and marketing has been muddled at best.
Now, with a new 2016 Volt to be unveiled next January, Chevrolet's recently-arrived global chief marketing officer promises that a thorough overhaul is coming.
That executive, Tim Mahoney, may be best-known in the business for creating the memorable campaign, "Love. It's What Makes A Subaru A Subaru."
2012 Chevrolet Volt
Owners to evangelize
He told trade journal Automotive News that Chevy will use existing Volt owners as "evangelists," to explain how the series-hybrid vehicle really works and to advocate for its sales.
Marketing efforts for the 2016 Volt will be more regionally focused, he said, concentrating on "areas with dense populations."
Presumably those might include northern and southern California, much of the Northeast, and sprawling suburban regions like Atlanta and Dallas-Fort Worth--all areas where plug-in electric cars have sold well.
Mahoney called that "fishing where the fish are."
Existing owners will also play a big role in Volt marketing via social media, though Mahoney didn't articulate how such efforts would be rolled out.
He introduced the first teaser photo of the 2016 Volt yesterday during a presentation at the annual Management Briefing Seminar in Michigan.
2013 Chevrolet Volt - Driven, December 2012
The Volt continues to be both a halo product for Chevrolet and one of its most atypical offerings.
It attracts new buyers to the brand, including many who would never otherwise have set foot in a Chevy showroom.
And the Volt logs the highest customer-satisfaction scores of any vehicle GM has ever sold, with more than 90 percent of Volt owners saying they'd buy another.
Green Car Reports reached out for comment to long-time electric-car advocate Chelsea Sexton, who called Mahoney's news "encouraging."
With close to 250,000 drivers in the U.S. who largely adore their cars, she said it's a resource the industry at large has failed to take advantage of.
Urging automakers across the industry to use electric-car owners as first-line marketers is "a drum some of us have been beating forever," she noted.
'Revenge of the Electric Car' premiere: consulting producer Chelsea Sexton
But Sexton was careful to note that execution would be crucial. "Their notion to use actual owners in the last round of Volt ads was good," she argued.
As for the ads themselves, however, she did not have kind words--saying Mahoney would have to produce marketing "that comes off as more authentic."
And, Sexton suggested, another crucial requirement would be marketing and communications executives and staff on GM's part who were genuinely committed to engaging with owners, electric-car advocates, and the broader community.
1998 Saturn SL
"Ironically, Saturn really is the model for a lot of this," Sexton concluded--noting the now-defunct GM brand's community-oriented approach, continued post-sale engagement with new drivers, and use of real owners in its ads.
Saturn sponsored meet-ups, car club events, road rallies, and more, she said.
You might say "a bunch of folks and their plastic cars were the [model for] the electric-car community before there even were electric cars," Sexton said.
If Mahoney and his Volt marketers can replicate that 20-year-old lesson--taking advantage of owners "bonded more by the [ownership community and] experience than by the product itself"--then the prospects for more effective marketing might be bright, she said.