Carmakers push trucks with ad spending, not EVs

Source: By Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, November 7, 2019

Car companies are spending a tiny fraction of their advertising dollars to promote electric vehicles while the bulk of their money goes toward boosting sales of gas-powered models, new research shows.

The analysis from Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management looked at how six major auto companies advertised their most popular electric and gas-powered models in 2018. It focused on local markets in the Northeast and California, rather than nationwide ads.

It found that General Motors Co. spent virtually nothing to promote the Bolt electric car in both markets. By contrast, it spent more than $20 million in California and roughly $8 million in the Northeast to promote the Silverado light-duty pickup truck.

Similarly, Ford Motor Co. spent $400,000 in California and virtually nothing in the Northeast on advertising for the Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid — less than 1% of what it spent to promote the F-150 pickup truck in both markets.

And Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV spent around $2.5 million to advertise the Pacifica Hybrid electric minivan — just 7% of what it spent to promote the RAM pickup truck in both markets.

A NESCAUM spokeswoman declined to comment on the results of its study, given the group’s status as a nonprofit association of air quality agencies in the Northeast.

Environmentalists, however, showed no such restraint.

“Despite the auto manufacturers talking a lot about the future of electrification, the reality on the ground today is that there aren’t that many electric options available to consumers, and they’re not advertising them,” said Don Anair, research and deputy director of the Clean Vehicles Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Gina Coplon-Newfield, director of the Sierra Club’s Clean Transportation for All Campaign, said the analysis shows that automakers continue to be motivated by profits over sustainability.

“There’s a reason why they spend all this money advertising combustion engine vehicles. It’s because they think it will help them with sales,” Coplon-Newfield said.

In some ways, the analysis is hardly surprising. It echoes a string of similar findings by NESCAUM and green groups in recent years.

In 2018, for instance, NESCAUM found that Nissan Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and Ford spent nothing to promote their leading electric models in the Northeast and California the previous year.

“Whether they like it or not, the market is moving toward EVs,” Coplon-Newfield wrote in a blog post about the 2018 NESCAUM analysis. “Automakers can either take the time to invest in promoting them now, or we can all reap the climate, air quality and consumer choice consequences later.”

The findings undermine talking points from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a powerful trade association whose members include Ford and GM.

The Auto Alliance frequently argues in statements and congressional testimony that consumers aren’t buying EVs in greater numbers because gas prices remain low, so gas-powered cars still represent an attractive and affordable option.

“Consumer demand for the most energy-efficient vehicles is lower than expected for many reasons, including low gas prices,” the group says on its website.

Said Anair: “Automakers’ actions speak louder than their words.”