General Motors Spokesman Rob Peterson has been on the Chevrolet Volt team since before the concept car was shown in 2007.
At last week’s EDTA conference he gave a talk at a breakout session titled, “To Market We Go: Building Successful Launch and Marketing Strategies.”
Addressing industry peers, he opened up GM’s strategic playbook, and outlined its key four-point approach. Point number one, which we’ll focus on here, he called “Relationships.”
Before he got into his core message however, Peterson noted that now the Volt is in production, some roles have changed. Last year, instead of him taking center stage, it would have been the Volt’s Vehicle Line Director, Tony Posawatz who was now seated in the audience. This year marked the turning of a page in the Volt story.
“The fact that I am here and Tony is now over there is a signal that things have changed a little bit in the marketing of electric vehicles,” Peterson said, “Because today we’re not talking about the development of electric vehicles, we’re talking about marketing electric vehicles.”
This should send “a big signal” to enthusiasts, suppliers, industry and government stakeholders and consumers, he said, because Chevrolet now has a transportation solution called the Volt.
“It is here today and we’re putting them in driveways as we speak,” he said.
Peterson conceded GM is not the same company it was when the Volt was conceived. Four years of challenges and a financial crisis was a tough experience.
“We had to handle it with some humility and swallow our pride a little bit,” he said. “And that wasn’t just an overnight occurrence back in 2007. Candidly speaking, when we revealed the Chevrolet Volt, I don’t think many of you in here or many of the people who witnessed us launching it felt that we were committed to bringing electric vehicles to market.”
He said in those early times, GM recognized it was at a low point but with opportunity to rebound, so it endorsed a shift toward greater openness.
“Our communications strategy beginning in 2007 was one that was very simple,” Peterson said, “For a company that was short on credibility and long on engineering talent, we were going to be as transparent as possible and that’s when the journey for the Volt truly began.”
Even though it could be uncomfortable for some traditionalists, Peterson said, the new policy was necessary.
“Now that is a challenging strategy for the people like Tony Posawatz and the development team to have a communications person stand by their side; want to showcase the wins and sometimes the stumbles along the way,” he said, “But it was needed in order for us to actually succeed. Because our transparency is what built the credibility along the journey the past five years.”
“We started to reach out to the utility companies through EPRI back in 2007. It was a logical relationship to have. We both shared the same customers. Our customers who’ll be buying our vehicles will also buy their power from them,” Peterson said, “It has worked for us to be integrated with them, to have a connection to them along the way – the same with the Edison Electric Institute.”
Implicit in Peterson’s message was that General Motors wanted to establish a proper foundation for the time ahead, and begin new partnerships between formerly unrelated industries.
“We needed to make sure what we were doing was in lockstep with the strategies of these two organizations,” Peterson said.
A second focus for relationship building, he said, was toward electric vehicle advocates.
“No question about it, the enthusiasts, Chelsea Sexton, Felix Kramer, GM-Volt.com Web site – these were the embers that stirred in the public’s eyes and were out there waiting to be ignited. We needed to reach out to them and grace them. Many of these people we had shunned in past years,” he said, “We needed to extend a hand and bring them back in and fan their passionate flames. And you see right now the vehicles that we’re selling. Many of these enthusiast groups are the ones that are actually knocking on the dealership doors in the first part.”
Another direction for GM’s relationship building effort included reaching out to the advanced-tech transportation industry as a whole.
“A final element of the relationships was industry. We needed to be very active in the EDTA,” Peterson said, “Tony Posawatz who’s co-chair of the EDTA has done a fantastic job from our perspective of making sure that the voice of electric vehicles are heard. Not only in this forum, but in other forums.”
In taking the approach it is, Peterson said, GM is also elevating the entire electric vehicle movement.
“We’re representing the industry as a whole and not just the Chevrolet Volt. We’re true believers that a high tide raises all boats,” Peterson said, “There’s nothing here that we can do that benefits just the Volt. When Volt succeeds many other electric vehicles succeed along with it.”
Peterson’s sincerely delivered message indicated GM is intent on not repeating past mistakes. On the contrary, it is working in today’s cultural, economic and political environment to show it has and will do what it takes.
“Having solid relationships with organizations like EDTA, EPRI, EEI will go a long way. This need for relationships – something that we started on this journey – is definitely not going to go away either,” he said, “The bond of the relationships is going to have to actually be stronger as we move forward and we try to move the EV market segment from a burgeoning one to mainstream.”
Peterson went on to outline three more key Volt marketing strategies, but we’ll have to save those for another day.
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