Chevy's marketing chief explains how the automaker is playing the long game with electric cars
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- General Motors plans to roll out 20 new electric vehicles by 2023.
- The Chevy brand has already brought several important hybrids and EVs to market.
- According to Chevy marketing chief Steve Majoros, the brand has already learned a great deal from its EVs and is ready to play the long game as the auto market shifts to electrification.
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When it comes to electric cars, Tesla gets a lot of attention - but General Motors has been in on the action for longer than Tesla has existed.
GM rolled out the all-electric EV1 in the mid-1990s, and with the Chevy brand, jumped back into the electric race in 2011. The Chevy Volt arrived a year before Tesla launched its Model S sedan. Chevy continued its pattern of beating Tesla to market with the 2016 debut of the Chevy Bolt, the first long-range, mass-market electric car.
Now, GM has a goal of launching 20 new electric vehicles by 2023, and the Chevy bowtie badge will be on the grille of many of those cars.
"Chevy's presence in EVs will not be going away," Steve Majoros, Chevy's marketing chief, said in an interview with Business Insider.
Read more: GM promises 20 all-electric cars by 2023
He noted that the brand is in a "transitional time" as the Volt retires, but he credited the vehicle with setting Chevy up to enter the next phase of its electrification strategy.
"Volt helped us crack the code of the range-and-cost equation," he said of the gas-electric hybrid. "It led us to believe."
Getting real about electric cars
Matthew DeBord/Business Insider
Matthew DeBord/Business Insider
The Volt hit the streets alongside the Nissan Leaf, a fully electric car, as well as a bevy of vehicles from startups that have since disappeared. The fully electric Chevy Bolt is on the leading edge of a new round in EV development. It's beaten GM's sales expectations, and over the next few years is set to be joined by numerous new EVs from a wide range of manufacturers.
But EVs still make up a sliver of the overall US auto market. And that's something that Chevy and Majoros are aware of.
"We're learning about expectation setting," he said, adding that GM's ambitions have to be balanced with the expectations that the electric-car market is going to explode. Majoros hesitated to call the current environment the Wild West, but he indicated that Chevy's experience with EVs has helped the brand take a more realistic approach to market demand.
GM CEO Mary Barra has argued that GM's future is all-electric - but she doesn't mean that the future will suddenly arrive tomorrow. The vast majority of Chevy's sales are of gas-powered vehicles, and should be for some time.
GM and Chevy are also grappling with the biggest challenge to EV success: recharging the batteries.
"We've identified a series of barriers and enablers for battery-electric adoptions," Majoros said.
Overcoming consumer issue around EV adoption
Number one is to offer a vehicle with a lot of range, such as the Bolt, which can travel about 240 miles on a charge (the Volt can go 420 miles, but just 50 of those are on battery power alone, before a small gas motor kicks in to make more juice.)
With that obstacle surmounted, the next one is charging. Majoros said that 85% of charging is now being done at home or at a workplace. But consumers tend to want charging infrastructure to mirror the familiar gas refueling system, with filling stations all over the place.
Tesla has built its own network of Superchargers, which can replenish a battery in about an hour. Other manufacturers have partnered with charging specialists - GM, for example, works with ChargePoint. But they've also been reluctant to over-invest in charging, given the cost of creating their own "refueling" infrastructure in the context of a market that's only now beginning to take shape.
But Majoros thinks Chevy is ready, and his proof is the Bolt. That's because the days of an EV as curiosity have ended for consumer.
"Now, they just wanna great vehicle," he said. "And Bolt is a great vehicle. Period."