New TV, Online Ads for 2016 Chevrolet Volt Take Aim at Nissan LEAF, Toyota Prius — But Are they Fair Game?

Ask any ad executive to name the various ways a company can encourage the general public to buy their product and not a competing one, and somewhere in their list will be the following response: make everyone else’s product look terrible.

In some countries, this age-old practice is considered in bad taste, or at least must be done without specifically mentioning the competitors a company is trying to take down in its advertising. But in its new ad campaign for the 2016 Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car, General Motors’ ad team have gone for the jugular, attacking both the Nissan LEAF electric car and the Toyota Prius hatchback hybrid by name.

Stuck in a lift to give the occupants range anxiety?

Stuck in a lift to give the occupants range anxiety?

It’s a practice which is certainly not new in the U.S. auto world — but with many advocates keen to see plug-in cars of any type on the roads, is GM playing fair?

As Automotive News (subscription required) details, dealers in California and ten other early-adoption sates in the U.S. began taking deliveries of the all-new second-generation 2016 Chevrolet Volt on Tuesday this week. As the industry publication details, at a San Francisco launch event timed to coincide with the start of dealer deliveries this week, members of the press were treated to a preview of GM’s first ads for the 2016 Volt.

The long-form ads, which will be broadcast in their entirety online and then cut down for TV use, continue in the same vein as GM’s ‘Shattering Perceptions’ series of ads in which a presenter leads a group of ‘real people, not actors’ through a series of tests, challenges, or presentations to make a point about a new GM product.

In the first, called ‘Elevator,’ we see the focus group participants ushered into a lift, before discovering mid-travel, that the lift has broken down and can’t go any further. Via cameras inside the lift, we see the frustration play out as participants stuck in the lift deal first with the anxiety of being stuck in the lift and then the panic which ensues when they have nothing to do or need to use the restroom.

When the doors finally open and the trapped participants are released, they find themselves on a floor in front of a Nissan LEAF and Chevrolet Volt parked side by side.

After being asked how the participants felt being stuck — and devoting plenty of time to their received yet frustrated responses, the ad cuts to the closer.

“Who hates getting stuck?” the presenter asks? Everyone raises their hands. “The Nissan LEAF only gets 84 miles of range per charge,” the presenter continues. “The 2016 Chevrolet Volt gets an estimated 400 miles or more on a full charge an a full tank of gas.” Throwing in GM’s prediction that most people won’t need to fill up more than once every 1,000 miles, the participants react with the kind of surprise you’d expect of anyone who hasn’t experienced a plug-in vehicle before.

And the ads, of course, are aimed at just that kind of person.

The second ad — called ‘Time Capsule’– is even weirder than the first. Presenting the focus group with a table full of gadgets from the late 1990s but telling them they’re cutting edge, the presenter earns a great deal of derision from the focus group as he excitedly demonstrated technology which he claims won’t be released until next year.

In general, there’s a great deal of confused faces, head palms and even the odd snarl. One lady even asks the presenter which year he thinks they’re living in, reminding him that the technology in front of them is old.

The ads take a shot at both Nissan and Toyota.

The ads take a shot at both Nissan and Toyota.

The ad then cuts to a Chevrolet Volt parked next to a Toyota Prius. Highlighting the fact that the Toyota Prius uses Nickel Metal Hydride batteries which are at least 15 years old in terms of technology, the ad mocks the popular hybrid for deserving to be on the table with the rest of the old, outdated equipment.

The Chevrolet Volt, it reminds the viewers and the participants, uses the latest in lithium-ion technology.

The ads, released this morning online, are already taking some serious heat from plug-in advocates and electric car fans frustrated that GM is choosing to go after Nissan and Toyota rather than other, more obvious targets. Indeed, while the Nissan LEAF is the world’s best selling electric car to date, the range quotation given in the advert — 84 miles — is now out of date thanks to the recent announcement from Nissan that the 2016 Nissan LEAF SV and 2016 Nissan LEAF SL can travel 107 miles per charge thanks to a larger 30 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack.

The Volt’s all-electric rage — carefully avoided in the adverts — is 53 miles per charge. Although there is a range-extending engine to provide motive power after that point, the Chevrolet Volt doesn’t come with quick charging capability, meaning that its gas mileage and environmental benefits dramatically drop beyond that point in extended range operation.

The Nissan LEAF meanwhile, can be recharged to 80 percent full in just 30 minutes from a CHAdeMO DC quick charge station.

“More risky @GM strategy that will have to be unwound for Bolt. And what does prodding LEAF’s range say for Spark?,” our good friend and regular Transport Evolved panellist Chelsea Sexton said of the ad move via Twitter yesterday. The Chevrolet Spark EV — a limited-production electric version of the previous-generation Chevrolet Spark minicar — manages just 82 miles per charge of its 21 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, and will be available to buy until next fall, when GM is due to debut the 200-mile 2017 Chervolet Bolt EV in its place.

This morning in a separate tweet linking to the new videos, Sexton’s tone was a little more sarcastic.

Others in the plug-in world have questioned why GM chose to chase automakers already making well-known ‘green’ cars. Indeed, in the past 24 hours, we’ve had several people comment that GM should have turned its attentions to Volkswagen in the light of the dieselgate scandal, rather than inwards towards other automakers trying to offer low or zero emission vehicles.

In the world of advertising, any competitor is fair game, especially when you’re trying to gain their market share for yourself. But in the world of plug-in vehicles, where the advocates and enthusiasts which GM and other automakers need in order to make a substantial dent in the larger automotive marketplace, mocking what many see as an ally isn’t fair game.

From our perspective, we can understand why GM’s ad team chose the low-hanging fruit that is the Nissan LEAF and Toyota Prius to compare the Volt too, especially given Toyota’s long and hateful ad campaign against any type of car with a plug.

But when there are so many more benefits to low-emission plug-in cars — and so many other features to emphasis and make a fun, enjoyable ad out of (as the zombie-inspired ad, created for a Chevy ad competition shows) — we’re sure these ads, like the horrendous Chevy Volt Dance, will haunt GM for many years to come.


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  • Joseph Dubeau

    funny stuff.

  • Michael Thwaite

    I guess that the advertising team were young and inexperienced. If nothing else, the last few years have taught us that the best way to show that your have a strong product is to be confident about it. Bashing the competition is straight out of Mad Men and the 70’s or, it suggests that they really think that we’re all too stupid to make decisions by ourselves. I hope that they didn’t spend a lot of money on it, paying money to generate negative press is never good.

    They’ve lost me as an advocate and potential Bolt buyer.

    • Joe Viocoe

      So what was your 2nd place? Care to see that automaker bash the competition?

    • D. Harrower

      Chevy ads have been taking a bad turn for a while. Remember the Colorado commercial where they ask the audience who looks cooler: The hybrid guy or the truck guy? They spout every tree-hugging stereotype there is in that one. Time to fire this ad team and hire one with some creativity.

      • Michael Thwaite

        I watched a string of TV ads. yesterday from Peugeot (not my fav. pastime) – every one was upbeat, enthusiastic, even interesting. They all left me with a positive image of Peugeot even though I’ve had issues with them. They left me thinking that I’d consider a Peugeot. Isn’t that the point of advertising?

  • Charlie Payne

    Umm… Doesn’t the plug-in Prius have a lithium battery?

    • vdiv

      In terms of development and commercialization the NiMH and Li-ion batteries are actually about the same age (and quite a bit newer than the 130-years-old ICE). Both started in the early 1970’s and didn’t make it to consumer products until the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. For the purpose of a non-plugin hybrid, which doesn’t need much charge capacity, the NiMH battery is a better choice as it can provide higher charge-discharge current than a Li Ion pack with the same capacity.

      But then again facts are not something that GM would share with their potential customers as the facts are all too often not in their favor.

      • NiMHs hate being let uncharged, though, so any extended down time kills them hard. Lithium is the other way; it likes lots of deep cycles, it hates being topped off all the time.

        I’ve got lots of both and they can be frustrating to manage.

  • So they’re lying, and comparing themselves to a different product.

    Well, that’s pretty normal Chevy advertising… Why list themselves against a comparable product?

  • jeffsongster

    Typical GM…the conflicted, compliance angling, EV1 crushing, only wants to sell something with an ICE… until it doesn’t with the Spark and later the BOLT. The creepy old headed board room trying desperately to cling to the past while offering window dressing and complicated old tech in the form of the mild hybrids and then the better plug in Prius… the Volt.
    Attacking the LEAF is a mistake… that isn’t even their real competitor. Most Volt owners seem very range needy or obsessed so the real competition is the other hybrids, who they beat handily with VOLT. Range worried folks shudder to think of running out of juice even when there is little real chance of it. Tesla’s international Superchargers, and Nissan/KIA/Mitsubishi’s regional CHAdeMO have established quick charger networks can work to eliminate range anxiety. GMs ad failing to acknowledge this proves where their soft underbelly is.

  • Bruce Moore

    Chevy/GM should be ashamed of them selves. Not only are they misleading and they are comparing apples and oranges, did they forget they sell an all electric car and aren’t they coming out with a new model?

  • Jim Seko

    I have a Leaf and a Volt. After 33K miles, I’ve lost two battery bars on the Leaf. Elon Musk said the cooling system of the Leaf battery is “primitive” and he is right. I do not live an extremely hot climate (St. Louis) I like my Nissan Leaf but it’s a POS compared to the Volt.

    I’ve never owned a Prius but I know the first generation Volt had 3X more all electric range (AER) than the plug in Prius. The 2016 Volt has 53 miles of AER and Toyota decided to NOT produce a plug in version of the new Prius.

    Anyone who knows anything about cars would have to be extremely biased to believe the Prius is not a POS compared to the Volt.

    If these ads piss you off, it’s only because you are extremely biased against American made products. I’m pleased that you are offended!

  • David Urquhart

    I thought General Motors learned its lesson regarding marketing of electric cars with the EV1 debacle, but obviously they haven’t and they just shot themselves in the foot once again.