Why aren't automakers plugging their EVs?
A brand-building exercise: BMW’s 2015 Super Bowl ad for the i3 with Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel
Automakers with electric vehicles in their stable aren’t putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to advertising.
That’s the conclusion from a report by the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management, a nonprofit group made up of air-quality regulators for eight states.
It notes, unsurprisingly, that brands such as Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan and Chevrolet spent far more money nationally advertising conventional gasoline-powered vehicles than electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles, citing 2015 data from CompetiTrack and Motor Intelligence.
And the dollars that were spent plugging EVs were concentrated in California — and not the other nine states with zero-emission vehicle mandates, raising the question of whether automakers are doing enough for EVs to gain traction in those states.
The study aims to poke a hole in automakers’ claims that the public isn’t interested in buying EVs: How can they buy them if they don’t know about them? And why is the advertising concentrated in the one state where alternative-fuel vehicles already have a robust following?
“We know from survey after survey that people are eager for these vehicles and yet we hear from the automakers that they’re doing everything they can, and there’s all this evidence that that’s not the case,” Gina Coplon-Newfield, director of the Sierra Club’s EV initiative and author of a blog post highlighting the ad spend data, told Automotive News.
From the industry’s perspective, though, it’s not that simple.
One issue is a loophole in the state ZEV mandates that’s referred to as the travel provision. This amendment allows an automaker to count the sale of an EV in one of the ZEV states against the mandates in all the other ZEV states as well.
With California serving as fertile ground for plug-in offerings and other alt-fuel vehicles, automakers see a greater return on the marketing money they spend in California, while they earn credits in all the other states.
Nationally, the skimpy ad budgets reflect the perennial chicken-and-egg problem surrounding EVs. Automakers with finite ad dollars are inclined to promote products that generate volumes and profits. And they’re not going to spend nationally to advertise something available in only a handful of states, except as a brand-building exercise — BMW’s 2015 Super Bowl ad for the i3, for instance.
Coplon-Newfield says her group isn’t calling for EV marketers just to spend more on ads; instead, it’s seeking a comprehensive approach that includes better training at dealerships and more outreach by dealers and automakers at the local level to boost awareness about EVs.
Patrick Min, industry analyst at ALG, agrees. “I think there’s definitely more these automakers can be doing in terms of setting up long-term expectations as the industry moves to a greater mix of EVs and ICE,” Min told Automotive News. “There’s a lot more they can do in terms of awareness and training.”
That is an approach Nissan has found useful in promoting its Leaf EV, which has been on the market since late 2010.
“Unlike any other segment, EVs require far more unique ways to communicate than traditional advertising can always offer,” said Tim Gallagher, senior manager of Leaf communications, including working with local municipalities and infrastructure and energy providers.
After all, said ALG’s Min, “how much can you educate in 30- or 60-second blips?”