Last Sunday, my family and I spent much of the day hanging out at one of the LA stops of the Volt Unplugged tour. Both Bob and I have already driven the Volt, but this ride and drive event was taking place at my local Best Buy store- so local, in fact, that we might have walked there had it not been drizzling all day. Not that we need much of an excuse to spend some time in the place from which all great man caves are stocked, but we figured an EV event gave good cover for gadget fondling, so off we went.
It made sense to conduct an Unplugged tour stop at that Best Buy- it has been selling EV bikes and scooters for over a year, in addition to being geographically and demographically attractive, situated amongst a collection of beach towns. And indeed, plug-in vehicles of various sizes had taken over the parking lot. The Volt sign-up table was situated on one side, along with the designated line-up area, a static display car and a Whole Foods taco bar. On the other was Best Buy’s set-up, featuring the Brammo Enertia and some of their scooters (more e-bikes were inside), while a handful of Volts threaded their way down the middle to start and end test drives. The affair was staffed by a combination of folks from GM’s marketing agency as well as their own PR and engineering staff. Southern CA Edison was also on hand to provide info about rates and making one’s home “plug-in ready”.
The whole thing had something of a homegrown feel to it, about which I have mixed feelings. On one hand, that resonates with my Saturn roots- I’ve done my share of flipping burgers at those BBQs, and I’ll take authentic over overdone and artificially commercial any day. At the same time, it’s hard to look at something that casual and believe that Chevrolet understands that this is one of its most important product launches in at least 20 years…but it is. I know there’s sensitivity toward being government owned and spending a ton on marketing, and this effort is meant to preach to the mostly converted, but the answer is probably somewhere in the middle. Even the EV1 program had a self-contained roadshow inside a semi trailer that held 7 cars and enough displays and materials to make an instant event wherever it went- and that’s a car that GM now claims it wasn’t all that serious about. And in a more current reference, there’s no shortage of people who’ve been comparing the Unplugged tour with Nissan’s much fancier endeavor for the Leaf and assessing cracks in Chevrolet’s commitment, accurately or not. There’s a decided underdog element to the Volt, but it seems the Unplugged tour has been deemed a little too scrappy.
On a smaller note, it’s also unfortunate that kids under 18 aren’t able to even ride along; by comparison, the Leaf tour even reminds you to bring car seats if needed so kids of any age enjoy the ride too. Bringing mine to see a next generation car only to have to tell him he couldn’t ride in it was something of a let down…though it made the event’s co-location with Best Buy and its attendant video game section all the more fortuitous. Hey, little men like man caves too.