A week ago GM announced its plans to plug into the alternative-vehicle market with the Chevrolet “Volt,” an electric car Chevy claims will get 230 mpg in city driving. This would make it the first car to break the triple-digit barrier for mileage, and deliver over four times the mpg of the most popular car in the category, Toyota’s Prius. The price tag? Also a lesson in multiplication for car buyers: $40,000, or nearly twice the cost of the entry level Prius II.
While clearly GM needs to restructure the brand in serious ways, there remain some unanswered questions about how the buying public—already jaded with GM products—will respond to an electric car that comes with sticker shock, not to mention the challenge of plugging in, especially for city dwellers whose outlets may be out of range of any power cord. The “build it, they will come” philosophy was never a very good one, and is less so today when our research in the category continues to demonstrate that consumers expect their cars to be increasingly green, while more green stays in their wallets.
And while “green” and “fuel economy” are certainly high-percentage loyalty contributors, the current overall rankings in, for example, the smaller sedan and crossover vehicle segment demonstrates the marketplace reality of the data and match up pretty well to the top sellers in the recent “Cash for Clunkers” program:
Faith, they say, is like electricity. You can’t see it, but can see the light. For consumers recently too often that light has not been a new car, it’s been a train. As Americans, and thus part-owners of General Motors, we would like nothing more than to see it move up in the world. But it will be consumers’ belief, and not faith, that will turn on the GM brand. And that belief will come when the brand delivers against the expectations consumers hold in the category, not before.
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