Making Sense of Electric Car Branding Part 2

How do you compete with a cult? The automotive giants scoffed, both at Tesla, who wasn’t turning a profit, and the environmental regulations, which they could get around by adding just one electric vehicle to their range. That gave birth to what are now known as compliance cars. Vehicles that were developed and put on sale, but not heavily marketed, competitively priced or particularly well equipped. They were like the token vegan option on a burger joint’s menu. Ford made the Focus Electric, which wasn’t very good. Volkswagen made the e-Golf which was almost half decent. Chevrolet made the Chevy Spark EV, which was dismal. Fiat had the 500e, which was technically a vehicle. Perhaps apart from the Golf being a solid effort, all of these examples gave electric cars a bad name and was a proverbial shot in the foot by the manufacturers. They were basically making EV buyers look like loonies and perverts.

But Tesla’s orders flooded in and people couldn’t stop raving about them. Social pressures to reduce pollution resulted in government grants for electric vehicle buyers. The 2016 Dieselgate scandal revealed to the world (and by world I mean Europe) that their beloved diesel cars are the automotive equivalent of an axe murderer. Car makers began to panic as they realised that they are falling behind, and them being as big as they are is to no advantage. Tesla already established its brand as the Lord and Savior with Elon Holy Musk as the redeemer. They could afford the engineering, they still can, to catch up with Tesla, but the years of complacency and the embarrassment of compliance cars meant they had to change the perception of the public about their brands quickly and effectively. How do you do that? How do you compete with a car company that is all-in on electric cars? By claiming to go all-in on electric cars yourself.

This might come as a surprise, but the seemingly radical and even nonsensical branding tactics employed by car manufacturers are quite well calculated. Volkswagen, the most wounded of the mastodons, recently revealed their first affordable dedicated electric car, the ID.3. It doesn’t share it’s platform with IC any brethren, the interior is unique to itself, and it will always and forever come in electric form only. Most importantly, VW is claiming that this car marks an era equal to the way the beetle did, and then the golf. This is critical, because by doing so they are setting a direction for the entirety of Volkswagen. As a result, their cars are receiving pre-orders in high volumes. Most notably, Ford release an electric crossover with a Mustang badge on it. Many are crying sacrilege, but those people are not the majority. All these branding strategies are actually a way of telling the customer that the days of compliance cars are over. That they are willing to bet the sacred heritage of their brands on their electric products. And it works. People trust a product if a manufacturer has a lot to lose if it is crap. Don’t be surprised if there is an all-electric GT-R announced sometime soon.