Earning cred in the EV world, 140 characters at a time…

Had an interesting experience on Twitter tonight. I’m not terribly prolific there, any more than I am here. Occasional commentary or sharing of articles, some conversation with others, usually EV related and almost never “breaking news”. Tonight I ran across an article from the New York Times, by a writer who had a Nissan Leaf for the weekend and learned what many of us already know: that a couple of days in an EV tends to cure range anxiety.

Not an earth-shattering revelation, but one that makes it into the media rarely enough to be worth sharing when it does. So I tweeted: “EV light goes on at NYT: “If anything, the Nissan Leaf taught me that I don’t drive nearly as far as I thought”, along with a link to the article.

Immediately, I got an answer back from the Hertz Rent-a-Car corporate account. “We need 2 get U in our Chevy VOLT. If long distance is important 2 you, U’ll like the VOLT”, with an invite to “follow” them for more info.

On one hand, I liked that they reached out. On the other, it showed so clearly that they’d not paid attention to what I’d actually said that I assumed it was spam- and I called them on it with my next tweet. (Admittedly, the short, 140-character form that is Twitter tends to occasionally be pretty conducive to my feisty streak. Though I did also ping them privately and offer to chat more about how they could start off better in the future.) I like that large, well-known companies such as Hertz are entering and doing potentially cool things in this industry. And while not without challenges, offering plug-ins in rental fleets is a great way to let consumers experience them before fully taking the plunge, and to allow travelers to lighten their footprint. But I’m less patient when those companies don’t do their homework and aren’t thoughtful of their approach. It shows a lack of awareness of the history and market they’re entering, and doesn’t bode well for their interaction in it. Some even end up doing themselves and the industry a disservice by partnering with less-than-credible companies for highly visible projects, when a simple Google search would have prevented it.

To their credit, Hertz didn’t let it lie. Gulsah Boye, their social media manager, came right back- initially suggesting that I’d misunderstood, then re-reading her first message and conceding that it didn’t come off as she’d intended and could be seen as a little spammy. Which led to an extensive (for Twitter) back and forth on both public and private channels about different EVs, an upcoming event, and linking of different bits of the community to each other. Ironically, it was probably deeper and more effective engagement than if her first message hadn’t irked me into calling them out- though it’s not a tactic I’d suggest repeating. The lesson, of course, is that you don’t have to be perfect; we expect a little clumsiness here and there, especially among the new entrants, and regardless of size and resources of your company. But we expect you to listen and do your homework before you engage, and continue to learn as you do. (Heck, it’s so rare among new entrants that a bit of humility tends to earn extra points!) We want to know that you’re going to bring something additive to what we’ve worked pretty long and hard to build in this industry, not merely take advantage of a new trend. And you have to get comfy with the fact that in most cases, this is a far more community oriented space than the one you’re used to.

But if you’re game for that, we’re all ears. To wit: I’ve been paying attention to what Hertz is doing all along. But thanks to Gulsah, I’m a lot more genuinely interested than I was an hour ago.

26 thoughts on “Earning cred in the EV world, 140 characters at a time…

  1. Good catch. I missed the Twitter exchange but I’m happy you didn’t let that slide.

    I’m a little concerned that some Volt marketers are identifying the Leaf as the enemy instead of attacking ICE cars. The Volt has enough merits on its own not to have to take shots at the Leaf.

    1. Thanks!

      I have a different take on the marketing. Personally, I’m happy to see each of these automakers finally be proud enough of their plug-in cars to want to sell them competitively. And we have to remember that marketing is, at its core, a competitive effort- the whole point is to sell your product against the other guy’s. Not very long ago, that never would have happened. It’s also not just Chevy doing this- Ford called out Nissan and Chevy in the Ed Begley video, and Nissan has called out GM repeatedly. Per John’s comment below, folks are just a lot more sensitive/critical to GM (and no, it doesn’t escape me the role I’ve played in creating some of that!) I do think there’s such a thing as going too far, but so far I haven’t seen anything all that offensive. And because I think these are all good cars (with grown adults behind them), I think they can handle a little bit of poking at each other.

      What frustrates me a bit more is the community participating in this- and I see *a lot* more sniping and smugness out of Leaf fans, trashing the Volt as not being “enough”. This is concerning because I can’t see any comment talking someone out of an EV that wants one- worst case is that someone switches from Leaf to Focus, etc. But many of the people who are considering a PHEV (Volt or otherwise) simply won’t get an EV, either because it legitimately won’t work for them or because they’re nervous. But if they become convinced that something like the Volt really isn’t enough, then the only alternative is to stick with gas. And that defeats what all of us are supposedly working for.

      1. My husband and I have recently started a 3-year lease of a Nissan Leaf and are excited to see how it will work out for us. I especially like driving without leaving an exhaust trail!

        Sue, in Maine

  2. Well, perhaps not prolific, but you are effective. You seem to have a knack fot this, for engaging folks/entitiies in purposeful dialogue. Keep up the good work;-)

  3. I like the VOLT better because it only gets 35mpg. Wish every long-range hybrid driver would dump their Prii and drive a VOLT!

  4. Nice informative piece, evchels, but what I *really* want to know is – who in the world names their child Gulsah? (g)
    Tagamet

    1. @Larry Geguzis: Well, only Turkish mothers would name their children “Gulsah” : )
      I actually am glad to reach out to Chelsea. She is very knowledgeable of both the EV industry and Social Media. Glad to learn from her experience and her comments on best practices. I believe without an open dialog and genuine two way conversation, people won’t be getting the best out of social media tools like Twitter. I believe that one way blasts won’t work and I was happy that she was ready to chat and share her VOLT & LEAF experience with me even though she didn’t know me at all. Both cars are terrific and very different than one another. Every household needs one of each! : )

      1. I totally agree on all points. I only mentioned “Gulsah”, because with a last name like “Geguzis” (Lithuanian), we named our girls Jenn and Jess, because we knew that they7’d be spelling that LAST name forever! No offense intended, just weak humor.
        Although I’m a total Voltiac, I’m sure that there is plenty of room for *all* EV’s. It would, however, seem a bit problematic for rental companies to use fully electric vehicles at this point, anywhere other than possibly urban centers.
        Be well,
        Tagamet
        PS If you haven’t already, you should swing by gm-volt.com!

    2. I hear you on the name confusion : ) I thought your comment was funny.
      I think that once the Charging Station network really takes off, 100% EVs will never be a problematic or people won’t be hesitating to rent or purchase. We are seeing now many companies, chains, organizations are installing charging stations on highways, shopping centers to help motorists and drivers really get excited about the EVs. For instance, Hertz and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide. announced today a joint partnership to bring in Hertz Global EV, a program developed by Hertz using 100% electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, to key Starwood select-service hotels in North America. We think that travelers will like to stay at green hotels and have a chance to experience EV driving. We’ll have our garages all equip with charging stations for hotel guests as well so they don’t have to worry about running out of battery power. You are right, once the charging station network is established in suburban areas, EVs will expand beyond the urban areas. So we are doing our best to help the EV infrastructure grow.

      1. KUDOS to Hertz and Starwood for this initiative! It would definitely steer my business your way everywhere that it is available.
        There is *nothing* like the EV driving experience, and a huge part of its success will rely on simply getting peoples’ butts in the seats!
        I know that I’m “atypical” but I’d rent a Volt just to drive it around! When will they come to Hertz’ in Penna?
        Be well,
        Tagamet

  5. I am really interested in the start of this whole conversation. I assume it all started with Nissan’s marketing efforts and putting the LEAF in the hands (right hands) of a journalist. I feel like this strategy has been effective, even though I am more than a little biased to believe that it will work.

    Am I wrong in thinking that Nissan’s PR efforts have been better than GM’s? Has Nissan been better at avoiding the 230MPG gaffes that GM often has found themselves in? Or is John Voelcker right and people just hate GM and make a big deal out of any misstep?

    Later
    John C. Briggs

    1. I agree that the LEAF was marketed significantly better than the Volt. I went to several Volt drives and loved every one of them, but reports of the LEAF affairs evidenced far better planning and presentation.
      Fortunately for the Volt, it is such a fantastic vehicle that marketing won’t matter much. They’ll sell every one they make – period. The very limited release area keeps people lined up and sitting on their wallets though, so in that sense, if the LEAF gets a lot of it’s wheels on the road very soon, they could eat into some Volt sales, which is a shame IMHO. ALL Gm has to do to sell Volts is to continue to keep their eye on quality builds and get people’s seats in the car. After that, it’s all smiles.
      Be well,
      Tagamet

    2. John- I think both companies have had both successes and mis-steps, but I do tend to agree with JV that people are far more sensitive/critical when it comes to GM. To wit: the day after GM announced 230, Nissan announced 367mpg. Some people took it as making fun of GM (and liked it, where GM keeps getting called out for the slightest reference to the Leaf) and some believe they were serious- but didn’t give Nissan the beating they gave GM over it all. Even today, GM would be pilloried for the delays Nissan is experiencing, but because it’s Nissan, it’s still a relatively contained story.

      In part, GM’s had more to make up for; Nissan crushed their EVs too, but GM was more arrogant about it, the story is better known, and the EV1 had a more passionate fan base to begin with. And I think from a PR perspective, they did a pretty good job. Yes, they publicized every little thing- but they also had to in order for people to come around and believe they were real. And I like that they focused primarily during that phase on the technical stuff about the car. Nissan, on the other hand has taken a technical approach of “just trust us”. They’ve really not released that much info about the engineering details of the Leaf, the components, supplier partners, etc. And no one seems to have noticed.

      I do think that once the Volt was handed off to Chevy for marketing that they fell behind Nissan- primarily in the ordering process. Going to dealer to dealer looking to get on a waiting list isn’t fun for anyone, and a tech-savvy early adopter market isn’t going to be as patient with that. On the advertising, Chevy got off to a slow start, but I think is doing ok with some of the follow-up ads. I don’t like “more car than electric”, but I wasn’t wild about Nissan leading with such a heavy-handed climate change ad for their first one either. I don’t think either company has the best creative ever, but I do like that these cars are being advertised like regular cars- more Chevy in their tone, but both of them with their frequency and placement. I see an ad for one or both every single day these days, and that’s a good thing.

      1. I’m biased, but I think that the horrors of VES would make for some interesting commercials:

        Notice: The Volt Envy Syndrome Foundation is soliciting new or previously loved Volts for use in therapy for the victims of this dreaded and wide-spread malady. Given the known scarcity of Volts available to the public at this point in time, frequency and severity of the syndrome is on the rise – especially in central North America. The VESF is in dire need of at least one Volt per residential facility “currently” providing therapy services for those most dramatically effected by VES. As I’m sure you are aware, there is no known cure for VES, other than Volt ownership. Treatment, however, is very straight-forward – exposure to a Volt in situ. Improvement is both immediate and dramatic, but tragically short-lived. (Note: Anecdotal evidence suggests that for some as yet undetermined reason, red Volts seem to hold significantly stronger impact for some of our patients).
        Corporate donations of Thera-Volts are, of course, encouraged *COUGH* GM *COUGH*, however, private donations are fully tax deductible.
        Thank-you in advance for your kind consideration of this matter,

        Tagamet, Founder, VESF
        “Providing help for the victims of VES since 2011″

      1. *Uncontested* re the bias AND the red! (lol).
        What DOES happen to those CAB Volts? We sure could use some Thera-Volts in the barren states.
        Be well,
        Tagamet

      2. They’re not legally production units, so can’t be sold. Last I heard, they were destined to be used as part of GM’s vehicle commitment to the DOE.

  6. FTR, I’m getting a car lifetime average of over 200 MPG with my Volt. And going up.

    I think the Volts drive around in gas mode most of the time during transport.

    So the lifetime MPG calculator in the car starts off with a poor MPG number and logically ticks up as you drive a higher percentage of battery only miles.

    I don’t think I’ve reached highest number yet. Amazing.

    Among Volts.

    Who will have the highest MPG?

    Who will first have the GM predicted 230 MPG?

    When will I go to the gas station next?

    I have no idea.

    6 mos?

    1. Congrats, Jeff! Unfortunately, the Volt tops off at “250+” mpg, so not sure we’ll know who’s highest unless GM revises that software. But I completely agree that very little gas will be used in these cars.

  7. I am less than a week away from my Volt. I really think I am going to get it this time, not like the time I waited for never when the EV1 came out. I was promised a Nissan Leaf for delivery this December, but then heard nothing. Then I was told to go to a dealer to get on a waiting list for the vehicle. I did that and the dealership didn’t know anything about it. Their Leaf “expert” new nothing. I then heard on the radio that a dealer in Maryland was demonstrating Chevy’s new models and among them were going to be Volts, so I went there. GM had sent a large contingent of the Volt engineering team to press the flesh so to speak with the public that was going to purchase the vehicle that they had worked so hard on. It was great. The dealer took my information and has been after me to make a commitment to getting a Volt. Since I didn’t hear and haven’t heard anything of substance from Nissan I decided I would give my business to the people that seemed more willing to help me get what I want. I am just a few days away. GM has really worked hard at changing its stripes from the EV1 days. They have a great deal further to go, but that I am buying a Volt is testament that at least for me things have changed.

    1. That’s great, Joe- congrats!

      The variation among dealers is something that all manufacturers will experience (we had it on EV1 too). Ultimately, we learned not to try to make every Saturn store into an EV dealer, and to let the personnel self-select, so we got the folks who were truly into it. I hope the same happens on these programs too, but it’s all part of the learning curve.

      You bring up a great point- the people behind these cars really matters, and is a factor in the purchase decision. Because GM has spent so much effort to reassure the public that they’re serious about the technology, they’ve put a lot more of their people out there than Nissan has. I like the Nissan folks I’ve met, but I’ve never spent meaningful time with an engineer from Nissan. I know dozens of the people behind the Volt- and I’ve had lots of people telling me that getting to meet them at these events is what started to change their minds about GM (in a good way).

      Then again, that human interaction is so important is really what started this post in the first place, isn’t it? ;o)

    2. @Joe,
      Is your dealer in Gaithersburg, MD by any chance? I had a deposit down there, even though it’s in a neighboring state. The folks there were great (!), and they had a hefty allotment of Volts headed their way.
      Best of luck.
      Be well,
      Tagamet

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