Two approaches to selling the car of the future

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The question of the day: If you’re trying to sell a product that will change the world, should you explain or inspire?

Through my work with the energy research pioneer Pecan Street Inc., I’ve become intrigued with how sales pitches for electric vehicles (EVs) vary by company and how they have changed in a few short years.

Exhibit A is the Chevy Volt. Chevy deserves a lot of credit for pushing the EV market forward, even as it endured remarkable political criticism. I’ve driven several Volts and know many Volt owners. They love their cars, but not for the reason you might think. The Volt ad below is indicative of most of Chevy’s EV messaging – explaining how the groundbreaking new car works.

Funny ad. And there are people that will pay $40,000 to avoid the gas station. But inspiring?

The Volt owners I know love their cars because they are cool, fast and quiet. Getting off of gas is important to them, but that’s not what makes them giddy. And if you look at the new crop of EVs coming to market, you can see that the messaging is changing.

Exhibit B is BMW’s new i3, which is marketed as… cool, fast and quiet. Its first ad seems lightyears away from Chevy’s. I’ve driven the i3, and it’s as cool, fast and quiet as advertised.

And speaking of lightyears…check out an unofficial ad for the Tesla Model S created by a couple of recent college grads.

To be fair, first movers often have to educate the market about new technologies. But the Volt ad above is from 2012 — not the Volt’s first year. And Detroit seems to be doubling down on explanation instead of trying inspiration. An ad from this winter (below) still focused on how the car works and seemed to take some shots at other EVs.

I hope all the EV makers succeed. But from a messaging standpoint, inspiration is always better than explanation, and I think the explainers are missing a huge opportunity.

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