Tuesday 11 September, 2012. The Green Piece.
OK I have a feeling I am going to be slightly controversial this week because I have a bone I want to pick with Vauxhall over the mishandling in the marketing of the Ampera. It’s not just the recent slap on the wrist that the company received from ASA (see story), that’s got me on my high horse; I’ve been shuddering over Vauxhall’s communication strategy for the ground-breaking ‘extended-range’ Ampera since marketing for the model first began.
You see, I think Vauxhall, or more accurately GM and its Opel and Chevrolet brands which also sell Ampera models (though, of course, it is the Volt under the Chevrolet brand), are obsessed with ensuring that the public don’t confuse its technology with Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD) tech; but I think it’s gone too far. By focusing on the fact that the model’s wheels are driven at all times by electricity means that average Joe can very easily interpret that to mean that the model’s battery range will last for the entire quoted driving range of around 360 miles.
I want to make this clear, in case any of Vauxhall’s PRs are reading this and to ensure they don’t miss it before they pick up the phone, I’m going to be rather annoying and cap this up; I’M NOT CRITISING THE AMPERA AS A PRODUCT*. No, this is a much more direct attack on the communication strategy instead which fails in every way it can; it fails to sell the product, it fails to clarify the USP and fails to latch onto the selling power of the hybrid. Guys, I think you should focus on this being a rechargeable hybrid, like the Prius Plug-in and stop using the long-winded extended-range electric vehicle (E-REV) term. I also appreciate that GM isn’t alone in using this term, but it is by far the biggest player in the field.
Voodoo magic and vacuum cleaners
Vauxhall should not be afraid of the word hybrid. It’s a good word and aptly described a model which is powered by two power sources; in this case a battery pack and a gasoline engine. It is implied in the name that there are two sources of power, where extended-range electric vehicle sounds almost like its range is extended by some sort of voodoo magic or perpetual motion.
Perhaps GM fears that Toyota has become too synonymous with the word in the same way Hoover has with the word vacuum cleaner. And yes, the Ampera is a step on from the traditional hybrid, which has an inability to recharge from mains electricity and is heavily dependent on its engine as it prime source of energy. But for many people the difference between a range-extended electric car and a second-generation plug-in hybrid requires more explanation than their attention spans will allow them to follow. That might sound condescending and is not intended to imply that most people can’t grasp the difference between the two; it’s just that they are not interested in Vauxhall’s posturing. All they really want to know is what is the end result? How much will it save them in fuel? What’s the tax implications?
While we recognise that the Ampera is a different type of hybrid than Toyota’s models (it is a series hybrid as opposed to a parallel hybrid like Prius); it is a hybrid by another name.
Is ambiguity really a marketing strategy?
In Vauxhall’s recent disastrous ad, the carmaker said it was ‘driving electricity further’ but on-screen text simply stated that the car used an ‘additional source’ to generate electricity beyond the 50 mile range of the battery pack.
While this ad has been quite rightly banned after being labelled ‘ambiguous’ it isn’t in my eyes the only time Vauxhall has failed to get to the point when it comes to marketing this car.
On the microsite for the Ampera here (http://www.vauxhall.co.uk/microsite/ampera/#/ampera_charging_daily_use), it talks of a fuel-powered generator. What? Is Vauxhall scared of the word petrol? It’s not until you’ve scrolled through to the very last page on this site that you will actually find the word petrol. Vauxhall might not be being completely deceptive, but they are definitely trying to focus your mind on anything other than the petrol engine. But it is there and it is not going away, no matter how you hide it in your website text.
The same is true of the Ampera page on the main Vauxhall.co.uk website (http://www.vauxhall.co.uk/vehicles/vauxhall-range/cars/ampera/index.html), no mention of the petrol engine here, again you’ll have to scroll through subsequent pages to see it mentioned in explicit terms.
Maybe I’m being hard on Vauxhall. It is just that I know that there are still people out there who aren’t even sure what a hybrid is, let alone an E-REV. Friends I’ve spoken to frequently confuse battery electric cars with hybrids, so let’s not confuse the point further by talking of range-extended cars. It’s a plug-in hybrid, let’s leave it that.
It might be a moot-point to say that many people won’t get the Ampera. The average person is not going to buy a £30,000 car tomorrow-the Ampera is a niche product after all. But if we’re going to engage people in these new technologies and grow the market for them; it is time to start talking straight.
Marketing and PR staff for carmakers everywhere, repeat after me: say plug-in hybrid and be done with it.
*For reference, if you want an actual critique or road test of the Ampera itself, see our first drive review (here: http://www.thegreencarwebsite.co.uk/blog/index.php/2012/04/27/is-vauxhalls-ampera-the-missing-piece-in-the-ev-jigsaw/). You’ll see we actually like it.
Faye has been writing about cars and environmental issues since 2007. A suspected eco-warrior working on the corporate inside, Faye mainly likes the weird, quirky vehicles that show a distinct environmental advantage. Her ideal car has enough room to fit a bale of hay in the boot. When not working, she likes nothing better than to head out on her bicycle and explore the countryside.
Take a look at the Toyota site they talk of two engines one petrol and one electric? They say when accelerating to 31mph you can generate 0 emissions by selecting hybrid mode, no mention of range etc etc, and try and find the word petrol !
February 08, 2013
Except it drives like an EV not a hybrid!
September 12, 2012
Yes - I couldn't agree more! Confusing marketing will only hinder the market, not help it.
September 11, 2012