Chevy Volt vs Nissan Leaf—A Marketing Commentary
by Marty Kassowitz
My wife and I visited the Altcar Expo yesterday at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. I’ll have a few pieces to post over the next few days as a result. But the first thing on my mind was an observation of the stark contrast between the Nissan’s marketing efforts and that of GM.
Test drives were being offered by both companies. We took both. Offering test drives and some take-aways was where the similarity ended however.
I was struck by some rank amateur actions by representatives on the GM side that began to explain to me why Nissan is continually outselling the Volt, in spite of the fact that the Volt is not a bad offering.
The Nissan Leaf Demo
Here’s how the Leaf demo worked. Visitors to the Leaf outside pavilion were asked to sign in through computer kiosks. Smart. Identities of people with interest were gathered immediately. This is a fundamental and Nissan did a great job of it. Drivers and passengers were registered. Groups of people were then ushered in and taken to an information area where a well performed information presentation was conducted. This was crisp and to the point. It was not too long wherein people may have been distracted from the event of getting to the test drive. Then the drive. Nice experience. Nissan had a small “test track” area set up in the parking lot which then funneled us out to the street. The car is factually a work of art and drives well. I won’t go into a lot of detail other than the fact that I was impressed with the passing ability of this little beast. There were a lot of sedate (read that as comatose) drivers on the road and I forgot I was in a test drive and reacted as I normally do and tromped on the “gas” to get around one. I was instantly greeted with a response. Needless to say the other driver, a member of the CDA (Comatose Driver’s Association) was behind me faster that I could say, “Cool!”
Once we got back, we were directed to information booths for more Q & A data. There were also reps there from the Edison and the charging station installation company. In other words, Nissan covered all the bases.
A word about their demo installation: impressive. Nissan clearly did not spare the dollars investing in their well designed traveling demo pavilion. It is obvious they take their Leaf product seriously and are committed to the long haul. What I was impressed with is that Nissan knows full well that they are still in an educational marketing phase for their product. Their traveling pavilion is a stark example of this knowledge. The big mistake many long-departed companies in Silicon Valley made was thinking that their technology “spoke for itself.” Nissan is not making that mistake with the Leaf.
The Chevy Volt Demo
GM’s pavilion was quite a bit different than Nissan’s. They had a party theme, at least from my perspective. I guess the DJ gave that impression. The Altcar Expo had a centralized booth for various manufacturers to use for registering drivers for test drives, i.e., license checks and liability waivers. GM utilized this system. But in doing so they missed the opportunity that Nissan handled all on their own: gathering the identities and contact information of interested parties. The expo’s central booth was not doing this. Many people were waiting in line for Volt demos. No flow line existed to take people through any information presentation. As long as you had evidence you had signed your waiver—stamp on your hand—you could just get in line.
GM was clearly missing the educational opportunities presented by people waiting for a test drive. Spinning records is a party deal. The question is why the party when Nissan is kicking their butts in sales with the Leaf. Does GM not really believe in the product?
The car itself is actually a good product. The demo went well. The odd part of it was the guy in the back seat giving out “information” about the car. I don’t know if our guy was representative of the entire crew GM had hired, but I knew more than he did. To make matters worse, he engaged in utterly unprofessional denigration of their key competition: the Leaf. Here’s some of the “facts” that came out of his mouth:
- The Leaf has maybe a 70 mile range and an 18-hour recharge cycle.
- The Leaf demo does not let you drive on the street, only on their track. Maybe he just didn’t look.
At the end of the test drive—we were close to the end of the day—the GM booth was already getting into shutdown mode and staff were anxious to leave. We got a couple of the dregs of the t-shirt supply and headed over to Nissan’s pavilion. (Nissan showed no signed of even beginning to shut down, though it was clearly end of day—obvious a much more professional crew, not uneducated hires for the day.)
If these few points of contrast are indications, and I believe, they are, the Volt is in danger of being a soon-to-be-forgotten also-ran in the evolution of electric cars. This is a shame because it is a good product that makes a good compromise between the future and present infrastructure realities. The failure of this product will be because of inept and inadequate marketing. GM shows a distinct old Silicon Valley tendency, letting the press releases and marketing materials do the talking and putting idiots in place where the rubber meets the road: face-to-face with people. Nissan left the show with the names and contact info of everyone they spoke to. Chevy gave away a lot of t-shirts. (I’m wearing mine as I write this and GM does not know who I am or how to reach me.)
Nissan has clearly invested heavily in training and facilities to educate future customers on a person-by-person basis. GM seems to be sticking to the old school guns of letting agencies speak for them, and then allowing amateur spokespeople to speak ill of the competition. By the juvenile actions of these “mouthpieces”—I’m assuming this was engaged in by more than one individual, someone had to have “educated” our demo escort—GM’s booth probably sold more Leafs this weekend than Volts.