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Out of Our Minds
Sunday, November 07, 2004 9:26 PM
Kevin Salwen on Business

During my trip to Detroit last week, I heard a lot about new car lines, what's selling and cash-back incentives -- the business info that makes Motor City run. But I also heard more than I expected about alternative fuels, hybrid cars (and trucks) and the greening of the auto plants. There is no doubt that the Big Three are making their vehicles more desirable for a range of buyers, including those who want cars to be more environmentally friendly.

That's not to say that Detroit is ready to abandon the Expeditions, Navigators and Hummers. The public has a large appetite for those behemoths, and companies will sell what the public is demanding.

Makes me wonder: What's the right balance for auto makers to strike?


Robert - 11/11/2004 10:45:07 AM
These hybrids are a fascinating business case study, not only because of the socially conscious benefits, but as the whole thing is fraught with contradictions. Detroit has to sell millions of hybrids for them to become more than an asterisk in the industry's overall performance. That said, they can't explicitly come out and say, 'Hey, Robert, get rid of that wasteful gas-guzzler you drive around in, you irresponsible consumer' because, of course, they sold us that hog in the first place, and indeed they need to sell more.

So as a result, the ads (those reaching me at least) seem kind of tepid and incomplete, lacking the emotional core message which should be a logical first step: 'Hey, by buying a hybrid, you truly can make the world a better place. And save money on fuel, etc. Do it. Now!' Just isn't there.

I'm looking at a print ad for one hybrid. Important product launch. The product is cool, looks great. Then the copy essentially argues, 'well, um, IF you're looking for a hybrid, we're the best one.' Lots of data, no emotion. (Gee, did the Kerry people already get jobs producing car ads? That was fast!) Point is, the ad leapfrogs an essential step, which is to convince me to consider a hybrid in a first place.

I've yet to see the critical, emotional pitch connecting these things to the greater good of the planet, and if that's not the key selling proposition, what is? To answer your question on balance, it's likely the short-term weight of this important new car category will be small, and that's a shame.
Keith - 11/10/2004 8:35:53 PM
I wonder how companies, like auto companies, can make positive changes and keep shareholders happy?
It seems to me that American businesses have a great opportunity in front of them...to really take an 'enlightened leadership' role and be thought of as 'socially responsible'. What a great legacy...and it'll be good for business too.
(I know I'd buy more from a car maker like that)
We should give the auto companies the top ten things we'd like to see in an American Auto Company support toward positive change.
Anyone care to co-develop a list?
Jane - 11/8/2004 10:37:00 PM
As John wrote, demand will create the balance. I can't wait to get my hands on the wheel of the hybrid Escape and, based on the waiting list at the dealership, I guess I'm not alone. While I think mileage is a very key driver (no pun intended), it's about more than mileage. Frankly, the numbers don't work for gas savings alone. Current demand is driven as much by reduced emissions as mileage. I like driving my big rig -- I feel safer in an SUV and I need to haul stuff. Even when I'm by myself, though, I'll also love driving in the HOV lane all by my sweet self, as I will here in Virginia!
Kate - 11/8/2004 5:38:35 PM
I'd like to see one that's a convertible!
Heard someone call 'Car Talk' to ask if they could customize their Insight (the answer was no, not enough stability.)

Finding these in the lower price classes would be great as well.
anita - 11/8/2004 3:11:20 PM
I'm definitely leaning toward a hybrid for my next car -- my fuel bills are huge because of my commute and my other daily trips and I don't drive a gas guzzler as it is. Plus, I just think they look cool. I automatically credit hybrid drivers with 20 or so extra IQ points.
John - 11/8/2004 2:57:23 PM
Demand, anticipated and current will create the balance. Hybrids would be more appealing if they demonstrate decidedly better mileage for the premium one pays for them.


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