Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Making promises: The Chevy Volt

You made me promises promises
You knew you'd never keepPromises promises
Why do I believe

-Naked Eyes

CNN's money section has a headline screaming about the Chevy Volt (here):

"Chevy Volt to get 230 mpg rating
Ultra-high mileage for GM's electric-drive Volt could give it a marketing boost."

First the claim: 230 mpg. The article discusses the complications with the mpg estimate...it's not as simple as figuring 'x miles/y gallons = miles per gallon'.

As an owner of two, more traditional hybrids (one the Toyota Hybrid Synergy drive and one the Honda integrated motor assist), I can tell you that mpg ratings are guidance...your actual mileage has far more to do with how you actually drive. And the EPA estimates are usually reflective of the best practical mileage.

This can be a major disappointment for those expecting to save megabucks on petro, but at least the comparisons between hybrids and conventional gas autos make sense (i.e., miles driven/gallons consumed). The Volt isn't so easy.

Now let's look at the subhead: ultrahigh mileage could give marketing a boost.

The complications associated with the EPA rating and the role of the driver mean many are surely to be disappointed by their actual mileage. And when they are, you can be sure the online dialogue-0-sphere will be humming.

So four marketing and PR-related questions come to mind:
  1. In what way does overpromising and underdelivering give marketing a boost?
  2. In what way is a 'marketing boost' an important news story?
  3. Can PR manage such an overpromise in the 24-hour, networked news cycle?
  4. Does GM have savvy marketers who might try different selling propositions?

To Chevy's credit, communications to date haven't focussed on much more than the 'first 40 miles without gas/no emissions' claim (though I do think the footnote ought to be proportionate to the impact of the disclaimer). More on the Volt here.

All will be told when, or if, the Volt actually hits the lots at "a month and year to be announced". In the meantime, I'll be asking why we should believe the headlines we read.

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