Chevy Volt: The greatest marketing gimmick ever?
A few years ago, a rumor began to hit the blogosphere about a new vehicle that GM was developing that would leapfrog the Toyota Prius. At that time, as a perpetual critic of GM, I stated that if true, I would become that technology's biggest advocate.
Not long after, GM took me at my word and invited me to the debut of the original Chevy Volt concept at NAIAS. Since then, GM has invited me to numerous press events focused around the Volt, and I've interviewed most major members of the Volt team - a great, passionate and totally committed team.
I've also been around a number of Bob Lutz interviews - group interviews - but I've only been able to ask him one question: Why not directly take on the Prius as the Volt is developed? Lutz, a Prius-hater, wondered why GM would waste its time on such a task and confirmed that the dual mode hybrid technology that GM was putting into SUVs was never intended for small cars (more).
I've never agreed with Lutz and GM on this point, and it's been my major criticism of the Volt - it's not doing enough soon enough. I also don't agree that the Volt is really a Prius-contender, perhaps a plug-in Prius contender, but not a Prius contender.
Now that it has become clear that GM never intended the Volt to be a real world game changer until the later part of the next decade, even as late as 2020, I feel a bit enraged. Not so much about the Volt - it's been pretty obvious that the Volt wouldn't be a significant product until at least 2015 for several months now.
What enrages me is that GM assumed that marketing alone was enough to fight the Prius until technology caught up to the Volt. Instead of diverting a few hundred million of its yearly multibillion dollar advertising budget away from gas-guzzling SUVs to develop a fuel efficient Prius-contender, GM decided more marketing was enough.
Before the Volt debut, Bob Lutz regularly called the Prius a joke and a marketing gimmick. Perhaps the Prius is nothing but a marketing gimmick along the way to electrification, but at least it is a real product widely available for sale - a product that has achieved sales of more than a million very efficient vehicles.
The Volt is still almost two years away from very, very limited sales, and the Volt won't achieve today's Prius sales for at least another decade. If that isn't the ultimate "marketing gimmick", I don't know what is.
Certainly, the Volt is still game-changing technology, but I think there is a real danger of the Volt being too many eggs in one basket. More important, while GM can talk about a gas tax, the reality is that a gas price spike could be just around the corner. If such a spike happens in the next couple of years, all the marketing hype behind the Volt won't help GM one bit nor will 10,000 Volts per year, however, a direct Prius-contender could.