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Is 2020 the Year of the Electric Vehicle?

Chris Kaiser

The Superbowl’s car ads are always full of surprises. This year, the spotlight was on electric vehicles. We breakdown the implications and messaging below.

Best Part of the Superbowl? The (Car) Ads

Having watched the Superbowl mostly to see the new car ad premiers, I was struck by the prevalence of electric vehicles. The car world was already abuzz (yes, pun intended) about the possibly of a big electric Hummer reveal, but the Audi eTron and Porsche Taycan ads were a welcomed surprise. In fact, three out of the eight car ads were for electric vehicles! That story, more than the tidbits we got from GMC on the Hummer, turns out to be the biggest takeaway.

We’ve known for a while that manufacturers are dumping crazy sums of money into electrifying their fleets, some more wholeheartedly than others. Companies like Volkswagen and Ford are making major concerted efforts while others, like of Fiat Chrysler and Subaru, still have some catching up to do (which each is trying to do via mergers and partnerships – FCA with Peugeot and Subaru with Toyota).

Whether ahead or behind in R&D investments, the biggest hurdle for OEMs isn’t even technical, it’s perceptual. Currently, EVs account for just 2% of new vehicle sales. Advertising dollars have typically been spent at even lower percentages, roughly .3% of all marketing dollars went to EV promotion last year. This has led to a chicken-and-egg scenario where manufacturers fail to promote a product that lacks public demand and in turn that lack of promotion fails to nurture any nascent demand. Or that was the case until this past Sunday.

Audi, Porsche, and GMC touted their electric vehicles as the new flagship/halo car for their respective brands. The e-tron, Taycan, and Hummer got the proper Superbowl ad treatment complete with celebrity endorsements.

Audi’s e-tron “Let It Go”

The Audi e-tron commercial features Game of Thrones alum Maisie Williams belting out the theme to Frozen while stuck in claustrophobic, smog enshrouded traffic. The spot goes to great lengths to subtly/no-so-subtly evoke climate change and offers the e-tron as the antidote, which, to the degree that it can convert EV skeptics into believers, it might well be. The petrol station sign singing along “Let it go, let it go” wasn’t especially subtle either. But perhaps OEMs are waking up the idea that the time for subtly is over.

Porsche Taycan “The Heist”

The Volkwagen group wasn’t done with the e-tron, however. The newest Porsche on the block, the all-electric Taycan, got its own much deserved spotlight. Here Porsche marketing made the smart choice of leaning into the “Porsches are expensive toys” angle by featuring a rollicking car chase through the German countryside. Adding in all those other awesome Porsches into the mix helps draw a line of continuity between the brand’s classic ICE heritage and the new electric tech of the Taycan.

GMC Hummer Electric Truck

This was the big non-reveal, reveal of the night. Officially slated for a May debut, we had to be satisfied with the scant info and teaser image this spot provided. The spot smartly encapsulates the irony of electrifying a vehicle like the Hummer, known in its day as the epitome of the gas-guzzling SUV, by contrasting the thundering hooves of horses with the silent 1,000hp of the new behemoth. They repeat the trick for the 11,500 lbs. of torque (probably closer to 900 lb. ft. without gear ratio multipliers), a 0-60 sprint of 3 seconds, and “pure dominance” which gets embodied by LeBron silently shattering a backboard. What we get to see of the new Hummer truck is just a grill and headlights emerging from the inky blackness.

You’ve got to hand it to GM here. Whereas Tesla and Rivian have tech bros and granola crunchers respectively covered, GM has the bigger hurdle convincing diesel exhaust loving tough guys to buy into electric vehicles. What better way than by comparing raw numbers; horsepower, pound-feet, 0-60 acceleration. Capability trumps tradition every time. Or, at least that’s GM’s bet with the new electric Hummer.

Ford Mustang Mach-E “New Breed”

You might have missed the Ford Mustang Mach-E, given its ad only played in select markets. This spot featured Stinger Bell er…Indris Elba and a fleet of historic Stangs. Much like the Porsche spot, the message was explicitly an “evolution of tradition” but without all the fun of the Taycan ad. And while Ford boasted a 0-60 time “in the mid-3 second range,” you can be sure the new Mach-E will at the very least handle better than the new Hummer.

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Chris Kaiser
Chris Kaiser

Chris’ greatest passions include topiary, spelunking, and pushing aging compact cars well past 200,000 miles on cross-country road trips. His taste in cars runs from the classic and esoteric to the deeply practical with an abiding affection for VW Things, old Studebakers, and all things hybrid-crossover.

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