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Alternating Currents: EV adoption is not a competition

GM NoWayNorway 01
Photo credit: GM

I didn’t even watch the game, because I honestly couldn’t be bothered, but as a student of the advertising industry, I am perennially interested in the big dollar ad spends that happen every year during the Super Bowl. Yes, it’s the middle of the week and I’m still thinking about that awful General Motors commercial starring Will Ferrell, Keenan Thompson, and Awkwafina that debuted during The Big Game on Sunday. My problems with it are manifold, but I’ll do my best to break it down into easily digestible chunks. 

If you haven’t seen it yet, I’ll give you a moment to catch up.

Dubbed “No Way Norway” the commercial is based on the premise that Norway’s electric vehicle adoption rate is significantly higher than that of the United States. It’s true, battery-electric vehicles made up 54% of Norway’s light vehicle sales in 2020. And it’s true that less than 2% of American light vehicle buyers purchased EVs in the same period. Obviously the U.S. car market is significantly larger than that of Norway’s, but it’s clear that Americans haven’t seen the EV light in the way Norwegians have. 

The Saturday Night Live alum Ferrell is incensed (in the commercial) by the fact that America is being beat by anyone in the commercial, and wants to go to Norway to punch it or something. It’s not really clear. America is being beat by pretty much everyone. Pretty much all of Europe has seen the zero emissions benefits of electric cars in a way that far exceeds that of the average American city. Sure, Norway is by far the world leader as EV adoption per capita is concerned, but China is buying EVs in much higher volumes than any other country, and it’s not even close. 

It’s not a competition. We aren’t fighting to see which country can buy more EVs, no matter how much GM might wish that to be true. We should be in a collaborative developmental phase of rolling out BEVs and PHEVs to as many people worldwide as possible. General Motors doesn’t even sell an EV in Norway. We should all be working together to solve the teething problems that electric vehicles currently experience, like battery power density, charging infrastructure, efficiency, cost, and environmental impact. Don’t be a downer on Norway for working toward an EV-filled future. When there are problems to be solved, don’t point fingers at people who are doing their level best to solve them. 

Super Bowl commercials are clearly all about setting expectations. GM wants people to know that it is focusing on electric cars, and that it will be launching 30 new evs within the next four years. The problem lies in the fact that there is no call to action in the commercial. A call to action is advertising speak for phrases like “on sale now” or “call today.” It’s convincing a consumer to go somewhere, sign up for something, or buy. GM can’t do that with this ad, because it doesn’t have any BEVs on sale today, aside from the five-year-old Bolt, which apparently nobody wants. In the entire modern history of the company, General Motors has only marketed and sold three electric vehicles to the public; Bolt, S10 EV, and EV1. Excellent products, all three, but sales failures. 

It should be well known that I’m not rooting against General Motors here. I am a child of the great state of Michigan, and I’d be excommunicated if I ever said anything untoward about the General. The problem is that I’ve believed in the company and its products for too long. Like rooting for the Detroit Lions, you eventually get sick of watching them fail week in and week out. GM has a long history of building incredible world-beating product and then completely failing to deliver on the marketing of said products. I would know, I’m a Buick Regal TourX owner. There’s so much good going on in the dealer showrooms of Cadillac, GMC, Chevrolet. (Not you, Buick. You know what you did.) But the marketing doesn’t reflect it, and the dealership salespeople don’t know, or care, how to sell it to you. 

GM wants to show that it’s got electric vehicles for the everyperson, but does it by paying millions for a Super Bowl spot, putting disconnected Hollywood celebrities behind the wheel of a Cadillac Lyriq and a Hummer EV. Big horsepower resource intensive luxury SUVs with price tags closing in on six figures. That’s your opening salvo in the “war” against Norway? Come on, man. 

American exceptionalism, elitist messaging, anti-European sentiments, and an overpriced product advertised in a way that talks down to the regular folks? GM has tried that before. It didn’t work then, and I don’t think it’ll work now. Try harder. N’est-ce pas?


Written by Bradley Brownell
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