Electric Chevrolet Silverado shown at the New York Auto Show, April 2022.
Scott Mill | CNBC
When people think of electric vehicles, they usually think of Tesla. But Elon Musk’s company now has a lot more EV competition from Detroit.
Within the last six years General Motors CEO Mary Barra has been pushing the company towards a full transition from gas vehicles to electric vehicles as offerings and consumer interest increase. GM plans to sell up to 175,000 EVs to Hertz Global by 2027 — Rentals are a key way to introduce more people to EVs without committing to a purchase. And the company was also forced to close reservations for its high-end all-electric Hummer last week after reaching 90,000 people.
ford is on a similar path, and it had to close reservations on its F-150 Lightning pickup, and the automaker also hiked prices on the EV pickup for a second time.
The reservations and price hikes aren’t just about absolute demand levels being off the charts — supply chain constraints and limited production for new models are important factors.
This crowded EV landscape is prompting GM to approach its marketing differently, GM CMO Deborah Wahl told CNBC’s Julia Boorstin at a recent CNBC CMO Exchange virtual event.
“We have to become even smarter,” said Wahl. “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.
While the economy is in a period of uncertainty and costs come under closer scrutiny as inflation weighs on consumers and impacts purchasing decisions, Wahl told CNBC that GM is focused on core goals and “for us, it’s about the Right now about working on the transformation of the industry towards electric vehicles. We believe electric vehicles are the future.”
The Hummer’s entry into the world of electric vehicles shows that car companies are betting on continued interest at the higher end of the market, where Tesla made his name. Mercedes is also betting that luxury customers will continue to lead the EV adoption curve. But there is also a transformation taking place across all car categories, including the best-selling vehicles in the US. As GM rebrands itself as an EV company, it offers a growing range of electric vehicles, from the Chevrolet Silverado (its F-150 rival and the two most popular vehicles in the US combined) 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-electric in our portfolios, and right now it’s a really big challenge for consumers to get everyone on board,” Wahl said.
Here are some of the key ideas from GM, which Wahl shared with CNBC on how the automaker plans to make the EV a mass-market success.
Make car buyers ask lots of questions
According to a recent study by the Pew Foundation, two-thirds of Americans support government incentives for electric vehicle purchases. However, only 42% of Americans are very or fairly likely to buy one. As people realize the benefits of electric vehicles, such as These factors alone are not enough to persuade 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 transition.
“People have different knowledge about electric vehicles and therefore need different information,” said Wahl. “It’s a different exchange altogether.”
GM’s GM EV Live video chat platform allows customers to call live showrooms, ask questions and gain a better understanding of GM’s electric vehicles without having to travel to a dealership, regardless of whether a customer is curious about charging processes, mileage or new technological functions.
GM first began this move toward virtual showrooms in 2017 with Dentsu Aegis Network, when the companies partnered to launch a mixed reality dealership application. 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-car technology, not just EV technology
GM is focused on advancing technology to create better and safer driving experiences along with sleeker EV models. On-the-go charging, active noise-cancelling speakers, and hands-free driver assistance are just a few of GM’s many technological advances that tempt even those tired of electric vehicles.
“You’re already intriguing people because the experience is so breathtaking, not just the core drive, but the technology you put inside you,” Wahl said.
While GM’s technology finds ways to attract more EV 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 aims to have all of its vehicles powered and autonomous.
Despite a recall of 80 Cruise vehicles in early September, GM is pushing to expand Cruise testing to Phoenix and Austin, forecasting $1 billion in sales by 2025.
Upholding of the basic principles by EVs
Wahl said one thing that hasn’t changed is the underlying principles of marketing.
“I believe in the core fundamentals of marketing, which is tell the story, tell it well, do it in an engaging way, and if you’re really good, you’re going to have a cultural impact,” she said.
For over a century, GM has influenced American culture and secured a presence as a leading automaker. Therefore, it is crucial for the company to maintain its identity as it transitions to electric vehicles.
GM Chairwoman and CEO Mary Barra addresses investors at the GM Tech Center on October 6, 2021 in Warren, Michigan.
Photo by Steve Fecht for General Motors
Cadillac, for example, is getting a remake as a luxury EV brand, starting with the Cadillac Lyriq.
Cadillac has been iconic throughout its journey, and that’s its new slogan, Wahl said: Be iconic. “And if you look at the way they express themselves, they’ve gone back to expressing the core of who Cadillac was but for the modern age, and they’re doing that with the Lyriq EV, which completely redefined luxury will be electric cars,” she said.
With a starting price of $59,990, the Lyriq will be the first electric Cadillac on the market, but GM doesn’t stop there as other electric Cadillacs are already in the works, like the Cadillac Celestiq, which will begin production by 2017 should be by the end of this year.
Stay up to date on celebrity and influencer trends
The world of celebrity endorsements doesn’t look the same as it did a decade ago, either, and GM is partnering with iconic celebrities in new ways, as well as new social media personalities, from NBA star LeBron James to TikTok influencer Breland .
In a recent commercial for the Hummer EV, James shows off the car’s CrabWalk capability, which allows you to drive diagonally and allows for greater mobility when parked or driving off-road.
The Hummer EV is also being promoted in video games like Call of Duty, and GM is expanding beyond producing traditional commercials by bringing a new focus to social media platforms.
“Influencers are the new media channels,” said Wahl.
Partnering with Breland, a TikTok influencer who went viral for making music, GM introduced its first TikTok for Chevrolet. Breland performed a parody version of his song “My Truck” and sang about Chevy trucks while showcasing various Chevrolet Silverados on TikTok.
“It enables us to get the key messages to the right target group at the right time,” said Wahl. “It’s pretty easy to see which influencers influence which goals.”