Screencap from Chevrolet Volt promo video
2011 Chevrolet Volt in New York City, March 2010
We didn't see many exciting auto launches last year. What with the worldwide economy in meltdown, that was probably to be expected. But 2010 is a different story, and we're gearing up for several major debuts -- notably, the Ford Fiesta, the Fiat 500, the Nissan Leaf, and that other EV that everyone's talking about, the Chevrolet Volt. To buff the Volt's high-tech sheen and to allay some consumer concerns about EV's, Chevy's taken to marketing the Volt in conjunction with Google Earth.
The Volt is a curious animal, different from the majority of its electric rivals. Most EVs slated for the market are purely electric; models like the Leaf and the Tesla Roadster get their power from batteries, with no integration of gasoline. The Volt, however, is a hybrid: its wheels are powered by electricity, but when the car's battery poops out after 40 miles of travel, a gas-powered generator kicks in. That generator doesn't drive the wheels, though -- it just charges the battery so that the battery can continue doing the work.
Because the Volt is so different, and because the car-buying public are apparently full of range anxiety when it comes to EVs, Chevrolet has put together an informational video explaining the car and its powertrain. And that's fine -- we see that sort of thing all the time. But what we don't see is Google products used for illustration. Check the clip below, and you'll see the Volt's range capability explained with the pinpoints familiar to any user of Google Maps and/or Google Earth.
From a practical point of view, Chevy's use of Google Earth is nothing new. Sure, it's clean and its pretty -- infotainment eyecandy -- but we see the same sort of thing done all the time on the evening news. Nor do we think that Chevrolet made the best use of the service: San Francisco may be spread out, but somehow the route used to demonstrate the Volt's range seems underwhelming.
From a branding angle, however, this is a great move. Chevrolet and General Motors have often been accused of being behind the curve and burdened by bureaucracy -- an image that wasn't helped any during the recent government bailout. Google, on the other hand, is beloved not only for its forward-thinking tech, but also for its corporate motto, "Do No Evil". For Chevrolet to align itself with Google -- even passively, like in this video -- is to do a bit of brand-buffing. Whether that was the marketing team's intention or whether they just needed a cool way to demonstrate range is another question altogether .