Holmes Report 14 Feb 2011 // 12:00AM GMT
The best marketing tool for a groundbreaking vehicle like the Chevrolet Volt is driving the vehicle itself. To showcase the capabilities of the Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle, the Volt Communications team launched the Volt Unplugged Tour, a 12-city tour that covered 4,124 miles and visited more than a dozen cities including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and New York City. The tour created buzz for the product in advance of the Volt going on sale in the initial seven markets (California, New York, Michigan, Connecticut, Texas, New Jersey and Washington D.C.) in December 2010.
During this program, consumers met the people behind the development of the vehicles – Chevrolet Volt engineers, designers and others – and participated in drive activities at each stop. The event was supported with traditional and non-traditional/social media as well as television and print advertising.
CHALLENGE AND OPPORTUNITY
CHALLENGE AND OPPORTUNITY
The Volt Communications team faced a number of challenges in preparing for the launch of the Chevrolet Volt in December 2010. Some were legacy issues, such as the specter of the company’s previous electric vehicle program, the EV-1, which was cancelled in the 1990s. General Motors filed bankruptcy in 2009 and received substantial aid from the U.S. and Canadian governments– a fact that was viewed negatively by many members of the car-buying public. These issues impacted the image of General Motors and its products, especially the Volt which became the symbol for political pundits who opposed the company’s bailout.
Additionally, the Volt Communications team faced the challenge of marketing an all-new technology to the American public. The Volt distinguishes itself from other electric-only vehicles by offering extended-range capability. It can drive up to 40 miles on electricity without using gasoline or producing tailpipe emissions. When the Volt’s lithium-ion battery is depleted of energy, a gas-powered engine-generator seamlessly operates to extend the total driving range to over 375 miles before refueling or stopping to recharge the battery.
Additionally, a limited number of vehicles were scheduled for production during 2010. This meant a limited supply of products were available for media and consumers to experience driving an electric vehicle. The Communications team needed to find ways to tell the Volt story without the vehicle and to plan driving events that would have a high impact.
According to a 2006 Maritz Research study, understanding on the part of consumers about electric vehicles was extremely low. Awareness of electric-only vehicles was at 8 percent; flex-fuel vehicles at 12 percent and gasoline-electric hybrids at 15 percent.
The primary objective of the of the tour was to provide consumers and media from around the country the opportunity to experience driving the Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle with extended range. These drives showcased the ground-breaking technology as well as dispel the “range anxiety” associated with other electric vehicles.
There was also a strong emphasis on employee element and engagement – as many development team members (plant, design, engineering employees) served as the product specialists, and the face of GM, thus exemplifying the internal integration of the program.
Lastly, Chevrolet strived to communicate to consumers that the Volt was the only electric vehicle capable of being a family’s primary vehicle
Volt Unplugged consisted of more than 70 drive events over the 30-day tour. Drive events were conducted for electric vehicle enthusiasts and associations, utilities, corporations, business partners, universities, and local conferences, as well as with tour partners and Best Buy and Marriott, where overnight recharging was more readily available in some locations than others.
The tour also served as a platform for engaging key media for extended driving opportunities on regionally relevant commutes (SF to LA, Miami to Orlando, DC to New York). The drives generated excellent coverage which reinforced the real and relevant capabilities of the Chevrolet Volt. In total, the media extension of this program resulted in over 300 clips.
During the tour, 6,348 consumers drove the electric vehicle with extended-range capability. The Volt’s presence on streets was often greeted with expressions of curiosity and outright enthusiasm. Some fumbled to snap photos with camera phones. Several people drove hours from their homes after signing up online to participate at prearranged drive locations. Drivers throughout the tour shared their Volt drive impressions on the Driver Scrapbook found on ChevroletVoltAge.com.
Volt Unplugged generated:
· 6,348 participating consumers in ride-and-drive activities
· 11,128 visits to Volt Unplugged tab on ChevroletVoltAge.com
· 86,011 page views for Posterous content from tour
· 1,366 pre-registered Volt drives through the VoltAge website
· 1,183 tweets used #VoltUnplugged, reaching a Twitter following of 4,914,180 users
Some participant feedback includes:
· “I love the smoothness of the ride,” said Seth Long, among the first to drive the Volt during the tour’s first stop in Seattle. “I love the fact that I’m not spending money on gas. I can fit my wife and kids in it very easily and take it on a road trip.”
· “The car is amazing,” said Lindsey Flood from New York City. “It works so well and is so high-tech inside. I loved the keyless entry and how the engineer inside the car with me was able to tell me so much about how the fuel works and the plug-in feature. I’m excited for it to come out.”
· Said Steven Greer, who drove the Volt in San Antonio: “You guys have a home run on your hands. The feeling that is indescribable is the instantaneous torque. It has seamless acceleration. It’s incredible. I don’t think people appreciate how fast you guys did this and how well you’ve done it.”
Additional results, to which the Volt Unplugged Tour contributed:
· Those familiar with the Chevrolet Volt had a higher opinion and consideration for the Chevrolet brand overall (50%) and were significantly more likely to say Chevrolet is fuel efficient, technologically innovative, and environmentally friendly, according to an internal study conducted in September 2010.
· Consumer familiarity with the Volt was higher than its nearest competitor, the Nissan Leaf, which also launched in 2010. Forty-two (42) percent of respondents surveyed were at least “somewhat familiar” with Volt, versus 22% for the Leaf.
· The list of registered Volt enthusiasts grew from 40,000 in May 2010 to nearly 250,000 by December 2010.
· The Chevrolet Volt captured approximately 5 billion media impressions in 2010.
· Registered Chevrolet Volt enthusiasts increased from 20,000 to nearly 250,000.
· Chevrolet Volt nameplate garnered the most media coverage of any automobile in three of the past four years – the majority of which came without extensive access to the final product.
GM believes the Chevrolet Volt may be the most awarded vehicle around, earning dozens of technological and environmental awards already. Among the list:
· 2011 North American Car of the Year
· 2011 Car and Driver 10Best
· 2011 Motor Trend Car of the Year
· 2011 Ward’s AutoWorld 10 Best Engines
· 2011 AUTOMOBILE Magazine Automobile of the Year
· 2010 Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Award
· 2011 Green Car Journal Green Car of the Year
· 2010 Popular Science “Best of What’s New”