How GM plans to convince car buyers to switch to EVs

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

Scott Mlyn | CNBC

When people think of electric vehicles, they usually think of Tesla. But Elon Musk’s company now has many more Detroit EV competitors.

Over the past six years, General Motors CEO Mary Barra has pushed the company toward a full transition from gas-powered vehicles to electric vehicles as offers and consumer interest grow. GM plans to sell up to 175,000 electric vehicles to Hertz Global by 2027 – rentals are a key method of introducing more people to electric vehicles without having to commit to a purchase. And the company also had to close bookings for its premium all-electric Hummer last week after hitting 90,000 people.

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

The bookings and price hikes aren’t just about an absolute level of demand that’s off the charts – supply chain constraints and limited production of new models are major factors.

This crowded EV landscape is forcing GM to approach its marketing differently, GM CMO Deborah Wahl told CNBC’s Julia Boorstin during a recent virtual CNBC CMO Exchange event.

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

The message from the auto giants is clear.

With the economy in a period of uncertainty and costs coming under closer scrutiny as inflation pinches consumers and influences buying decisions, Wahl told CNBC that GM is focused on fundamental goals. and “For us right now, it’s about working on transforming the industry to electric vehicles. We believe electric vehicles are the future.”

Taking the Hummer into the world of electric vehicles shows that automakers are betting on continued interest in the high end of the market, where You’re here makes its name. Mercedes is also betting that luxury consumers will continue to lead the EV adoption curve. But there is also a transformation underway in the automotive categories and including the best-selling vehicles in the United States. As GM rebrands itself as an electric vehicle 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 United States) to the Cadillac Lyriq and under $30,000 with its base-model Bolt sedan.

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

Here are some of the key insights within GM that Wahl shared with CNBC about how the automaker plans to make the electric vehicle a mass-market hit.

Let car buyers ask lots of questions

According to a recent Pew Foundation study, two-thirds of Americans support government offering incentives to purchase electric vehicles. However, only 42% of Americans would be very or somewhat likely to buy one. Although people recognize the benefits of electric vehicles, such as environmental protection and fuel savings, these factors alone are not enough to convince the public to switch to electric vehicles.

That’s why GM is doing everything it can to educate customers about electric vehicles and make them comfortable with this change.

“People are at different levels of knowledge about electric vehicles, so they need different information,” Wahl said. “It’s a different trade overall.”

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

GM started this move towards virtual showrooms in 2017 with Dentsu Aegis Network when the companies teamed up to launch a mixed-reality dealership app. Over the years, GM has created other virtual showrooms like Chevy MyWay and Cadillac Live, but GM EV Live is the first EV-only showroom offered by GM.

Focus on all in-vehicle technology, not just EV technology

GM is focused on advancing technology to create better and safer driving experiences, as well as sleeker designs for electric vehicles. On-the-go charging capabilities, active noise-canceling speakers and hands-free driver assistance are just a few of GM’s many technological advancements that are appealing to even those who are tired of electric vehicles.

“They’re already mesmerizing people because the experience is so mind-blowing, not just the basic ride, but the technology you have inside,” Wahl said.

As GM’s technology finds ways to attract more electric vehicle 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 eventually aims to have all of its vehicles powered by electricity and self-driving.

Despite recalling 80 cruise vehicles in early September, GM is working to expand cruise testing in Phoenix and Austin and expects a business worth $1 billion in revenue by 2025.

Maintaining the Basics with Electric Vehicles

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

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

For more than a century now, GM has impacted American culture and established itself as one of the leading automakers. It is therefore crucial for the company to continue to retain its identity even as it transitions to electric vehicles.

GM President and CEO Mary Barra speaks to investors October 6, 2021 at the GM Tech Center in Warren, Michigan.

Photo by Steve Fecht for General Motors

Cadillac, for example, is being remade as a luxury electric vehicle brand, starting with the Cadillac Lyriq.

Cadillac has been iconic on its journey, and this is its new slogan, Wahl said: Be iconic. “And if you look at the way they express themselves, they’ve come back to re-express much of what Cadillac was but for modern times, and they’re doing that with the Lyriq EV which is completely redefining luxury with electric vehicles. “, 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 set to begin production. by the end of this year.

Follow the trends of celebrities and influencers

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

In a recent ad for the Hummer EV, James shows off the car’s CrabWalk capability, which lets you drive diagonally and allows greater mobility for parking or off-road driving.

The Hummer EV is also being promoted in video games like “Call of Duty” and GM is expanding beyond traditional ad production with a new focus on social media platforms.

“Influencers are the new media channels,” Wahl said.

By partnering with Breland, a TikTok influencer who went viral for making music, GM launched its first TikTok for Chevrolet. Performing a parody version of his song “My Truck,” Breland sang about Chevy trucks, while various Chevrolet Silverados were featured throughout TikTok.

“It allows us to deliver the essential messages to the right audiences at the right time,” Wahl said. “It’s pretty easy to see, you know, which influencers are impacting which targets.”

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