GM’s 230 MPG Volt Campaign

GM Volt 230

I watch YouTube more than I care to admit. Last week I noticed a mystifying advertisement before many of the videos: A green screen with a large number 230, with the 0 depicted as a winking standard electrical wall outlet, and a smaller date 8-11 underneath. Since I had no idea what the numbers meant, I Googled them to no avail. Eventually, I discovered that this was a GM marketing campaign for the Volt. But how did the number 230 come into play? Does is stand for 230 volt outlet required? The number of days before GM declares bankruptcy again?

Finally, GM revealed on August 11th, 2009, that 230 was the official MPG rating given by the EPA. The advertisements now link to Chevy’s Official Volt page. While I was disappointed in the general lack of content on the actual page, the bottom corner provided a real gem of a link: Chevy Volt’s Facebook page. Those who do not know much about Facebook should know that people, places, events, and even inanimate objects such as the Chevy Volt can have their own Facebook pages now. The Chevy Volt Facebook Wall actually has a death of information on the Volt. People are free to voice their concerns and a Chevy spokesman tries his darndest to answer them all. Here is the spokesperson’s explanation of where they got the number 230.

It’s based on draft EPA fuel economy methodology, which takes into account thousands of drive patterns over an extended period of time. For example, some people will never use a drop of gasoline as they will always stay within the 40 mile pure electric range, while others will use a combination of pure electricity and engine-generated electricity when driving, and still others may stay within the 40 miles and just drive innefficiently. The assumption is most Volt owners will plug-in daily, so there has to be some common ground to compare vehicles between nothing and infinity. To rationalize all these scenarios and situations, the EPA’s draft methodology calculates this via mpg and our estimates based on that methodology are at least 230 mpg in city driving. Just as important, we are expecting the Volt to get more than 100 mpg combined (city/hwy). Also, we have not announced the charge sustaining mode mpg yet because we’re still testing and validating that mode of operation. -Phil

Originally, I was very disappointed in this ad campaign. All this build up around an arbitrary number and it all leads to a very plain, uninspiring website with a bunch of arbitrary numbers being crunched to explain where 230 MPG comes from.

It is crucial to convey what exactly the car does, and how the car is capable of your daily commute without needing a single drop of gas. I’ve witnessed first hand that the general public does not fully understand how plug-in hybrids work. One of my colleagues at work, an educated twenty something year-old, said he wasn’t a fan of the Chevy Volt because he thought it just died after 40 miles of electric driving. This was disconcerting, especially because we worked for an environmental activism group. I would have expected him to know how a breakthrough hybrid vehicle such as the Volt switches on an electric generator, when the battery is low. But not everybody has researched this. Therefore, simplifying this plug-in hybrid system to an arbitrary number, 230 MPG, might actually be the best way to communicate to the masses how such an unfamiliar vehicle operates.

So my final summation on the campaign is that Chevy did a good job simplifying and minimizing the dangers of bringing something unfamiliar to the market. Next, I would suggest some good old fashioned car advertising. Show it driving up a hill or blasting past a Mazda.


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