Hyping the Chevy Volt

Is GM setting a new record for vaporware peddling?

Published August 11, 2008 10:36PM (EDT)

Chevy Volt screenshot

Is General Motors setting a new record for vaporware peddling? Given that Farhad Manjoo opened up the Machinist to auto coverage a few weeks ago, this seems fair game: Like me, you may have noticed during Olympic TV coverage the nonstop GM commercials touting the coming pinnacle of automobile evolution, the Chevy Volt. (Is there any ad that doesn't run nonstop during the Olympics? What happened to our endemic advertising diversity?) Aiming to be the first commercially available plug-in hybrid, the Volt -- as the ads inform us -- will travel 40 miles without using a drop of gas. "That's an American revolution," it concludes. USA! USA! Let's all head out and buy one...in 2010.

I’m no advertising historian, but I can't think of another example of new technology being hyped with paid advertising a full two years before it is supposed to hit the market (a date that seems, given the delays in battery technology central to the car, a bit aspirational). Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite exited about the prospect of the Volt -- even if the maker doesn't inspire much confidence on the car-of-the-future front – and its competitors. But can anyone think of a technology touted with a nationwide ad campaign that far in advance of its release date? Maybe Windows XP or Vista? They certainly had the advance hype, but I don't recall early ads.

It certainly goes to show how much pressure gas prices are putting on automakers to rebrand themselves as part of the fuel-efficient future. And GM does seem to be making a legitimate bet on this car. Here's hoping it doesn't become the company's Chinese Democracy. For a great in-depth read on the whole Volt gamble, check out this fantastic Jonathan Rauch story in the July/August Atlantic. This guy also seems to be on top of all things Volt.

By Evan Ratliff

Evan Ratliff is a contributing editor to Wired magazine, and the co-author of "Safe: The Race to Protect Ourselves in a Newly Dangerous World."

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