A Peek into Chevy Volt Gate: Lies or Not?

Posted: October 12, 2010 in All About Cars, Chevrolet, Issue/Crisis Management, PR Adventure

Last night when I was reading car blogs I was shocked by this:

Jalopnik –How GM “Lied” About The Electric Car

Then I opened more blogs to find out what happened, and I was even more shocked:

The Car Connection – How GM Didn’t ‘Lie’ About The Volt

Image Source: Jalopnik

This on-going “Volt gate” broke out the news that GM’s electric vehicle Chevrolet Volt is not actually pure electric. Its gasoline engine is connected to the drive train and can provide mechanical torque. After GM confirmed it, the “rumor cloud” turned into a storm of “liar criticism”.

Did GM lie about Volt? I’d like to quote and summarize several expert bloggers’ posts.

  • From a technical perspective, Chevy Volt is an electric car

[John Voelcker at GreenCarReports] Video: So Is the 2011 Chevrolet Volt An Electric Car? A Hybrid?

[Lyle Dennis at GM-Volt] Motor Trend Explains the Volt’s Powertrain

[Nelson Ireson at The Car Connection] How GM Didn’t ‘Lie’ About The Volt and Why the Press is Wrong

  • No matter how twisted Volt is as an electric car, GM did lie

[Ray Wert at Jalopnik] Chevy Volt: Lies, Damn Lies And Statistics

To me, this issue is so interesting that it combines engineering challenge with PR strategy. If you ask me to pick a side, I would say: GM did lie, and Volt is electric.

Volt has never been a pure electric car. It is an EREV (extended range electric vehicle). The battery only supported for a short mile, serving people’s need to commute from home to work. When you need to drive more than 70 miles, the gas engine can keep the electric generator work so the car won’t run out of power on the middle of the road. The video from Green Car Reports explained this in a very simple way: “If you took out the electric motor, the car could not run.” If you look for detailed analysis of Volt’s drive propulsion system, GM-Volt can tell you more.

As a public relations practitioner, however, I thin GM made a bad move. Consumers may not really care whether Volt is electric or hybrid, but GM shouldn’t bet the whole company’s credibility on a single one model. GM put so much effort in Volt’s marketing and promotion. It was delivering overestimated hope to the public.The company had many chances to simply explain how Volt works, but they traded them with an adamant claim that the internal combustion engine does not motivate the wheels. Surprise, it did. I remembered a word I learned from my first PR quiz: “stretch”. But even a stretch can makes you lose people’s trust over one night.

I notice that some observers don’t think this issue is going to affect Volt’s sale, and I partly agree with that. But when it comes to damage control, I think there is another group that GM’s public relations staff should talk to: media and bloggers. It seems that GM is working on this because some bloggers are posting information from the company or talking about the press release. What I was thinking, however, was GM owed an apology for providing stretched, exaggerated product information to media. After all, some one did ran a headline with “Repeat after us: The Chevrolet Volt’s gas engine does not drive the wheels!“. No offense, but sometimes one story can hurt two party’s credibility. PR and media – we are on the same boat.

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