GM’s Dan Ammann Gets Itchy Twitter Fingers Over EVs

© General Motors
© General Motors

General Motors President Dan Ammann commandeered the company’s Twitter account today as he toured the IAA Motor Show in Frankfurt. Among a handful of benign comments, he dropped this little gem:

“On a tour of #IAA2015. More automakers unveiling EVs for the elite. We’re focused on EVs for everyone, like the upcoming @Chevrolet Bolt.”

The remark was a dig at Audi, who yesterday gave a first look at the mighty compelling e-tron quattro SUV coming to market in 2018, and Porsche, who unveiled a beautiful but optimistically-specced concept electric vehicle, the Mission E. Collectively, they have comprised most of the media attention from the show so far, certainly in the electric vehicle segment.

But GM’s foray into these snark-infested waters started with January’s unveiling of the Chevrolet Bolt, with previous comments aimed primarily at Tesla- ironically when Tesla itself is finally throwing fewer stones and instead imploring more companies to join the EV party.

I like a little competitive feistiness among manufacturers. And I’m especially rooting for more high-volume, affordable, nationwide EV programs. So I was thrilled to see GM steal the show in Detroit, so to speak, with the Bolt and second-generation Volt.

But the particular streak of arrogance revealed by such remarks against other companies making plug-in cars aimed at their own markets is not only a dicey strategy, but tone-deaf.

Not only because GM’s own premium brand, Cadillac, produces a plug-in vehicle that is certainly not “for everyone”. Nor because Dan Ammann himself just purchased one of the highest-priced houses in Detroit’s history. Or that GM has had its own challenges with its plug-in programs, and has hardly earned the right—yet—to claim the moral high ground on fully electric vehicles.

“EVs for everyone” requires diversity. Choices. Vehicle variations in all the ways we’re used to seeing them. No single car—gas or electric— is “for everyone”. And especially at this still nascent stage, more automakers invested in EVs “for real” means a higher likelihood that they become here to stay this time. Crucially, this is not yet a foregone conclusion, and no single company can change that alone.

At the same time, GM raises its own stakes with every remark. The loftier GM’s claims and the deeper its digs, the more the company will have to live up to via the Bolt. It will have no choice but to market it brilliantly and consistently, to engage with the community and stakeholders to leverage all of the support it can possibly earn. Because GM, of all companies, must make a success of its first major foray back into EVs. Any failure of the Bolt will be seen as self-inflicted, a deja vu moment.

So Dan, you keep on talking all you want. I’m all ears.

15 thoughts on “GM’s Dan Ammann Gets Itchy Twitter Fingers Over EVs

  1. Well done, Chels! I might quibble that EVs ‘are’ here to stay this time, but who can argue with anyone clever enough to pen “snark-infested waters”?

    1. Thanks, Paul! 🙂 I’m optimistic, but still a bit concerned about complacency…if something happened to the ZEV program tomorrow, most of the plug-ins we have now would go away, likely including from some of the handful of “real” companies. We need a few more years (and more widespread availability of product) for EVs to gain their own market momentum that isn’t so contingent on external forces.

  2. Great piece, as always, Chels.
    Re GM’s marketing of the Bolt, they’re going to have to work overtime to counter their own self-inflicted wound of hanging the Bolt name on the little beauty (and a beauty it is, to my eye) and sticking with it through the criticism that ensued after the intro.

    If you were present for the presentations at the LA NDEW presentations on Sunday, the confusion was front-and-center, as State Senator and major EV advocate Kevin DeLeon ended his remarks by clearly confusing the Bolt and Volt names while throwing shade at the styling of the first gen Volt.

    I’m not prescient enough to be able to foretell whether this in-built confusion will translate to buyer confusion and hence lower sales, but just imagine the confusion in advertising (radio-forget about it), on sales floors across the country, and on phone calls with potential buyers. And this will be especially true with potential Latino buyers, for many of whom the letters B and V are often spoken interchangeably.

  3. The article is right on. Tesla raise the bar and Gm is not reaching it. I am surprised the BMW I8 is not doing better. Guess we will see.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  4. Let the Bolt stand on its own. A 200+ range is a big improvement in the mass market. GM should focus on that and let the luxury brands have it out without bringing the Bolt into it.

    1. Amen. A big improvement- and no small feat for GM to ultimately pull off, no matter what others are doing. They have nothing to gain from this type of distraction.

  5. Hi Chelsea, it’s been too long since your last post, 9 1/2 months. I love your Snarky style of writing, if only it didn’t take a human gestation period to get a new post. 😉

    What GM says and does as we all know is not the same, so time will tell.

    I hope GM comes out with a mass market 200 mile EV that they will offer for sale in all markets. I would love to see an all electric Camaro, SS Sedan, and City Express van. No reason a GM EV can’t look sexy. But I won’t hold my breath.

  6. A $1.5M house is one of the most expensive houses in Detroit? Right now there are listings for 40 houses for sale in Minneapolis above that mark, topping out at over $6M. Anyway, if the price in the article is accurate, it doesn’t seem unreasonable for a president of an auto company.

    1. It’s not at all unreasonable for someone in his role. It is, however, maybe not the best tact to poke at the elite while being featured in the media as being squarely among them.

  7. Bolt? I am still waiting. Those high priced luxury plug in’s, I “LEAF’ed” them alone a long time ago.

    Gasoline free since 2012, Jim S.

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