Wednesday, December 15, 2010

An 'Electric' T3

As according to Mashable, the first 350 Chevrolet Volt vehicles are on their way to their "eagerly awaiting buyers in New York, California, Texas and Washington".  The full national roll out will be taking place in a year and a half from now, but this heralds the first time that the much acclaimed car will be available to consumers in North America.

The Volt comes as a solution to the booming 'green' movement: consumers are demanding more economical and environmentally friendly options (even if it's not them who buy it).  Is the Volt a great eco-car?  Well, it could be.  It has an electric range, and then a combustion engine to charge the car which the electric power runs out.  Some electric cars, such as the Nissan Leaf, run purely on electricity and gain their charge through a plug in unit.  But do you need an eco-car to be eco-friendly?  Absolutely not.

One of the most popular engine choices in Europe is the diesel engine, which is available in practically any model of car.  Diesels burn cleaner, fuel lasts longer and you will save money in the long run.  But they are also environmentally friendly in comparison to petrol models, it terms of economy and efficiency.  But diesels aren't the only environmentally friendly cars: just look at Fiat.  In Europe, you can buy a Fiat 500 (a small car that been out for years and only coming to North American next year) with a two-cylinder engine.  It has got 0.8 litres of capacity!  These engines return excellent fuel economy and environmentally friendly in comparison to other models.

So if there are alternative (and more discrete and anonymous) options, why do we need flash cars with eco-badging? 

As a marketer, I know that the appeal runs deeper than simply wanting to 'pitch in'.  Green products are different by design, not just because of the different materials or processes, but because they want them to be different and unique.  A smart man, by the name of Jay Leno, once said that hybrids and electric cars were bought by people who "want everyone to know the good work they do anonymously".  And I think he is absolutely right.

So what can a marketer take from this, in today's 'Green' climate.

1) If you're green, make sure sure people know it - Especially in North America, consumers want to know that they're 'doing their part'.  But also, they want people to know that too.  Badge it, label it, promote it.  Just look at household cleaners, TV's and cars.  Toyota are huge at this, hence the big 'hybrid' badges and styling cues.  Why does the Prius look like nothing else?  Some would say it's more aerodynamic but it also looks like nothing else. You see it, you think green.

2) If you make the claim, you need to back it up - If you claim to be green, you need to be prepared to back that up with facts.  Branding is about trust, and if your claims can't be trusted, then neither can you.  Don't try and make your product something it isn't: take a reality check and only speak the truth.  Remember that consumers are more sceptical and informed than ever, so make sure you can walk the walk before you talk the talk.  Has the Volt backed it up?  Well, statistics say yes.  But until the car's become properly rolled out, we just won't know.

3) Can 'green' be a USP?  -  No.  Consumers care about the environment, but not at the cost of product performance and price (up to a limit).  If you're product can't do what the consumer wants, then they will look elsewhere to satisfy their need.  Sure, the Volt is environmentally friendly but if it can't take you where you need to go and haul what needs hauling, people will be lining up for their Prius instead.