How GM wants to convince car buyers to switch to EV

Electric Chevrolet Silverado shown at the New York Auto Show, April 2022.

Scott Mlyn | CNBC

When people think of electric vehicles, their thoughts usually jump to Tesla. But Elon Musk’s company now has a lot more Detroit EV competition.

Over the past six years, General Motors CEO Mary Barra has pushed the company toward a total transition from gas cars to electric cars as deals and consumer interest grow. GM plans to sell up to 175,000 electric vehicles to Hertz Global by 2027. Rentals are an important method of introducing more people to EVs without committing to a purchase. And the company also had to close reservations for its high-end all-electric Hummer last week after reaching 90,000 people.

Ford is on a similar track, having had to close reservations for its F-150 Lightning pickup, and the automaker also raised prices for the EV pickup for the second time.

The reservations and price increases are not just about an absolute level of demand that is off the charts – supply chain constraints and limited production for new models are important factors.

That crowded EV landscape is making GM approach its marketing differently, GM CMO Deborah Wahl told CNBC’s Julia Boorstin at a recent CNBC CMO Exchange virtual event.

“We have to be even smarter,” Wahl said. “There’s more competitive activity, more innovations I think, than at any other time in automotive history since we moved from horses to cars.”

The message from the car giants is clear.

While the economy is in a period of uncertainty and costs are being scrutinized more closely as inflation squeezes consumers and influences purchasing decisions, Wahl told CNBC that GM is focusing on core objectives, and “For us it is now time to work on the industry’s transformation to EVs. We believe EVs are the future.”

GM, Hertz Announce Deal for 175,000 Electric Vehicles

Bringing the Hummer into the world of EVs shows that auto companies are betting on continued interest in the higher end of the market, where Tesla has made a name for itself. Mercedes is also betting that luxury consumers will continue to lead the EV adoption curve. But there is also a transformation taking place in car categories and including the best-selling vehicles in the US. As GM is rebranded as an EV company, it offers a growing lineup of electric vehicles, from the Chevrolet Silverado (its F-150 rival and together, the two most popular vehicles in the US) to the Cadillac Lyriq and for less than $ 30,000 with its base model Bolt sedan.

“We’ve made it very clear that we’re going to go all-electric in our portfolios, and right now it’s a really big challenge for consumers to get everyone involved,” Wahl said.

Here are some of the key ideas within GM that Wahl shared with CNBC about how the auto company plans to make the EV a mass-market success.

Let car buyers ask a lot of questions

According to a recent study by the Pew Foundation, two-thirds of Americans support governments that provide incentives for the purchase of electric vehicles. However, only 42% of Americans would be very likely or somewhat likely to buy one. While people recognize the benefits of EVs, such as helping the environment and saving money on gas, these factors alone are not enough to convince the public to switch to EVs.

That’s why GM is committed to educating customers about EVs and familiarizing them with making this switch.

“People have different levels of knowledge of EVs, so they need different information,” Wahl said. “It’s generally a different exchange.”

GM’s video chat platform GM EV Live allows customers to visit live showrooms, ask questions and get a better understanding of GM’s electric vehicles without having to travel to a dealer, whether a customer is curious about charging, mileage or new technological functions.

GM first began this move into virtual showrooms with Dentsu Aegis Network in 2017 when the companies teamed up to launch a mixed-reality dealer application. Over the years, GM has created other virtual showrooms such as Chevy MyWay and Cadillac Live, but GM EV Live is the first EV-only showroom offered by GM.

Focus on all technology in the car, not just EV technology

GM is focused on advancing technology to create better and safer driving experiences along with leaner models for EVs. On-the-go charging options, active noise-cancelling speakers and hands-free driver assistance are just a few of GM’s many technological advancements that tempt even those tired of EVs.

“They already fascinate people because the experience is so amazing, not just the core of riding, but the technology you have in you,” Wahl said.

As GM’s technology finds ways to attract more EV customers, the company still faces the challenge of getting customers on board with the idea of ​​autonomous vehicles. GM is currently testing Cruise, its first-ever autonomous vehicle unit, in San Francisco and it aims to eventually run all of its vehicles on electricity and be autonomous.

Despite a recall of 80 Cruise vehicles in early September, GM aims to expand Cruise testing to Phoenix and Austin and forecasts $1 billion in revenue by 2025.

Uphold the core principles through EVs

Wahl said one thing that hasn’t changed is the underlying principles of marketing.

“I believe in the basics of marketing, which is to tell the story, tell it well, do it in an engaging way, and if you’re really good, you have a cultural impact,” she said.

For more than a century, GM has influenced American culture and secured a presence as one of the top automakers. So it’s critical for the company to maintain its identity even as it transitions to EVs.

GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra addresses investors on October 6, 2021 at the GM Tech Center in Warren, Michigan.

Photo by Steve Fecht for General Motors

Cadillac, for example, is getting a remake as a luxury EV brand, starting with the Cadillac Lyriq.

Cadillac has been iconic throughout its journey, and that’s its new slogan, Wahl said: Be iconic. “And if you look at the way they express themselves, they’ve gone back to re-express the core of Cadillac except for the modern age, and they’re doing it with the Lyriq EV that completely redefines luxury with EVs,” she said.

With a starting price of $59,990, the Lyriq will be the first electric Cadillac on the market, but GM isn’t stopping there, as other electric Cadillacs are already in the works, such as the Cadillac Celestiq, which is expected to begin production by the end of this year.

Stay on top of celebrity and influencer trends

The celebrity world doesn’t look the same as it did a decade ago, either, and GM is partnering with iconic celebrities and new social media personalities in new ways, from NBA star LeBron James to TikTok influencer Breland.

In a recent commercial for the Hummer EV, James shows off the car’s CrabWalk ability, which allows you to drive diagonally and allows more mobility for parking or off-roading.

The Hummer EV is also being promoted in video games such as “Call of Duty” and GM is moving beyond producing traditional commercials by refocusing on social media platforms.

“Influencers are the new media outlets,” Wahl says.

Joining forces with Breland, a TikTok influencer who went viral for making music, GM debuted its first TikTok for Chevrolet. With a parody version of his song “My Truck,” Breland sang about Chevy trucks, while several Chevrolet Silverados were showcased on TikTok.

“It allows us to get the core messages to the right audience at the right time,” Wahl said. “It’s pretty easy to see which influencers are influencing which goals.”

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