Making Sense of Electric Car Branding Part 1

In the recent decade the automotive industry was forced to look long and hard in the mirror and ask itself whether it is prepared for the future. Giants of industry who seemed to be too big to fail have been shaken by a blow delivered from an unexpected direction. Electric vehicles arrived on the scene in a way that an asteroid arrives at the surface of a planet – not the gentlest of landings. Tesla Motors is seen as that asteroid. While Tesla did not invent the first electric car to enter into our skies, but it is the first to not be burned up in the atmosphere. Why?

Before (and for a long time during) the first mass produced Tesla vehicle came on sale, the Nissan Leaf was the world’s best selling electric vehicle. It was relatively affordable, reliable and easy to live with. But it is now quickly becoming that choice that every EV buyer has if they’re purposefully aiming for the bottom of the food chain. It was the significantly more expensive Model S that created a cult following. Which is odd, because it’s name does not signal the all-important eco-friendliness thought to be important to EV buyers, unlike the Leaf, which was called Leaf for that very reason. The Model S does not have distinctive styling either. You’ll recognise it on the street, sure, but it doesn’t change that it has the same sedan shape as all things sedan. The Leaf, on the other hand, looked like an insect that has seen the future of which he can never speak due its sheer horror. But for all its quirkiness, it’s sort-of dull. These two cars represent completely different car types and price segments, but that is not the point. Tesla’s ultimate goal was to make the model 3 – a people’s car that is priced like a… well… Nissan Leaf. So if Nissan had a royal flush on its hands, how come they didn’t rake in all the chips? The short answer – because marketing matters.

You see, people are not kept up at night with the thought of owning a Nissan. They might lust after a GT-R, but the GT-R lives a life separate from other Nissans in the heads of customers. It’s not wearing the Nissan badge on the car, but a GT-R one. That matters. Because that way the customer knows that the GT-R isn’t just a sporty Nissan, it is a group a mad engineers that the executive board fears to say anything about practicality, or economy. They’re all-in on performance. Tesla is known as being all-in on electric vehicles. From day one they embarked on building electric vehicles to rival internal combustion cars on the latter’s terms. They were not making electric cars to save the planet, with all the implied sacrifices. They embarked on making the gas-powered stuff obsolete. That borders on an ideology, which gave birth to the Tesla cult that no electric vehicle before them ever had. The marketing team of each respective competitor has to overcome this now.