If the medium is the message, GM might be on to something. Earlier this week, the automaker slapped images of its splashy new 2022 Chevy Bolt EUV onto the digital displays of hundreds of free electric vehicle charging stations in leading markets across the US. If all goes according to plan, GM might not sell Bolts to all of the 70 million consumers in those markets, but they will help make the electric vehicle experience feel as American as apple pie, and that’s a good start.
Electric Vehicle Charging And Apple Pie
The electric vehicle charging stations in question belong to the firm Volta, which has come up with an interesting business model. Their charging stations double as ad-hosting street furniture that enables malls and other site owners to offer free charging for EV drivers.
“Strategically placed in front of essential businesses such as grocery stores, pharmacies, banks and hospitals, Volta’s EV network supports a larger consumer trend toward vehicle electrification by placing fueling stations in parking lots directly where consumers already spend their time and money,” Volta explains. “Currently located in 23 states and over 200 municipalities, Volta’s unique approach has gained significant acceptance and penetration in the market.”
In addition to hosting ads, site owners can deploy the charging station’s large digital display to attract and hold consumer attention. That could mean game countdowns and trivia contests for sports venues, store maps and promotions for shopping malls, product highlights for grocery stores, trailers and quizzes for movie theaters, and community messages for municipal parking.
From the electric vehicle seller’s perspective, all of these places have one thing in common: they are everywhere, in every community, regardless of politics. Millions of people go to these places as a matter of course, and they’ll see the digital displays whether or not they need an electric vehicle charging station.
By advertising through the Volta model, GM helps to normalize electric vehicle technology in familiar places where everyone gathers, and that could have a greater impact on EV adoption than advertising on television or online. After all, what could be more American than a shopping mall?
GM Gets Another Re-Do On Electric Vehicles
The apple pie angle is of particular concern to GM, given its past experience in selling electric cars to the American public.
GM’s journey into modern electric drive kicked off with the ill fated EV1 of the 1990s. The company took a lot of heat for quashing the car shortly after it rolled off the production line, but apparently a lesson GM took away at some point was that selling electric automotive technology to large numbers of the American public is a complex endeavor that would best be accomplished by appealing to American exceptionalism.
With that in mind, GM launched the Chevy Volt gas-electric hybrid in 2010 with a promotional campaign that pushed the patriotic button, highlighted by a cross country tour from Texas to Washington, D.C.
The idea was to lure gasmobile drivers by combining the comfort and security of an all-American gas tank with full electric drive and a fairly decent battery range (for its day) of 38 miles.
Unfortunately, for the marketing whizzes at GM, the campaign ran headlong into the influential radio personality Rush Limbaugh, who promptly folded the Volt into other attacks on clean technology as part of an ongoing campaign against former President Barack Obama.
Electric Vehicle Charging & Renewable Energy
Oh well, water under the bridge. Apparently, the convenience of electric vehicle charging began to catch on in the US regardless of the hot air emanating from talk radio. GM introduced the all-electric Chevy Bolt sedan in 2016 and the car has been catching on, too.
CEO and Chairman Mary Barra has also steered GM into broader decarbonization territory that would have set the recently departed Mr. Limbaugh’s hair on fire, including a laundry list of zero waste and recycling initiatives and a strong slate of renewable energy programs, including a new partnership with the firm EVgo that involves 2,700 new electric vehicle charging stations across the country, all powered with renewable energy.
In yet another sign that times have changed, during the Super Bowl earlier this month, GM gave the whole idea of American exceptionalism a good ribbing over Norway’s leadership position in electric vehicle sales.
Rounding off the sustainability theme is the Bolt EUV itself. In a nod to the growing consumer preference for SUVs, the car is engineered with the look and feel of a larger vehicle but is just six inches longer than a Bolt EV. All else being equal, the smaller silhouette translates into lower costs and more efficient use of resources.
But Wait, There’s More
So far, Volta charging stations have distributed more than 87 million miles of free electric vehicle charging, and that contribution to decarbonization is interesting from an investor perspective — the cleantech equity fund Energy Impact Partners pumped $44 million in financing into the company through its Energy Impact Credit Fund back in 2019.
When the deal was announced, Volta had just 40 million miles of free EV charging under its belt, and it more than doubled that in just two years, so it looks like EIP means impact when the fund says impact.
EIP has crossed the CleanTechnica radar here and there since its founding in 2015, and probably will again because it is not letting the grass grow under its feet.
As described by CEO and founding partner Hans Kobler in the firm’s 2020 ESG report, EIP is “deeply engaged with an industry that is at the core of the energy transition, and partners with forward-looking incumbents who are working aggressively to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and who are committed to serving as enablers of clean energy adoption across the global economy.”
No kidding. The firm has more than $1.5 billion in assets under management globally, focused like a laser on cleantech.
“With a move towards decarbonized, decentralized, digitized, and highly electrified future, thousands of innovators are transforming and disrupting assets and carbon intensive industries,” EIP explains. “Focused on these themes, we follow a specialist platform approach to investing by partnering with over 300 of the world’s largest, most innovative, and environmentally conscious energy, utility, and industrial firms asset strategic investors.”
Community solar is one particular area of activity on which to keep an eye. Last May our friends over at Power Magazine reported that EIP partnered with NextPower III, NextEnergy Capital Group, and the community solar firm U.S. Light Energy on 102 megawatts’ worth of community solar in New York State, so stay tuned for more on that.
That move dovetails with a renewed push for community solar and other untapped solar markets by the US Department of Energy during the Trump administration, which also saw the kickoff of a new energy storage program and the articulation of a carbon-negative goal for the Department of Defense, among other signs of increasing speed on the road to decarbonization.
It seems that media personalities come and go but history marches onwards. The arc is bending inexorably towards vehicle electrification and clean technology no matter who occupies the air waves — or, for that matter, the Oval Office.
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Featured photo (cropped): Free EV charging stations, courtesy of Volta.