Saturday, May 22, 2004

Mo' Media Attention - Mo' Miles or Low Miles?

First, let me repeat a key point. I, Pete Blackshaw, am a passionate believer in hybrid technology. But I'm equally passionate about truth in advertising. This blog has shifted from high-octave "love letter" to dispirited "tough critic" because I fear there's a troubling and well-documented gap between the brand "promise" -- reflected in Hybrid advertising, promotion, and dealer representations -- and the actual product "benefit" and performance. Nothing will kill this industry faster than consumer cynicism, especially in the internet age of high-velocity word-of-mouth. With gas prices skyrocketing and a flood of new hybrid vehicles about to enter the market, three things need to happen. (1) Dealers need to work much harder to disclose the "true" mileage to potential buyers, (2) the EPA needs to retool its MPG mileage calculation immediately, and (3) manufacturers need to put in place smart and thoughtful "recovery" programs for early buyers and enthusiasts who feel betrayed and misled by the "mileage" misrepresentations. Meanwhile, more media coverage on this issue continues to roll-out, from Wired News, to Motor Trend, to CBS Marketwatch.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Mo' Momentum + Letter to Congress

Investor's Business Daily is now taking on this issue. Importantly, the article provides a deeper perspective on Consumer Reports' mileage estimates relative to the EPAs. Early this evening I penned a note to Congressman Rob Portman requesting that he take an immediate look at the EPA mileage estimates. Lastly, I received a voice mail from Honda today in response to my most recent (4/15) correspondence. Fingers crossed.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

NPR Strips More Bark off Issue (+ Call to Action Re: EPA)

Another round of thanks for all the great comments from everyone out there. We're building a real community around this issue. On Friday, NPR ran an outstanding story about the problem with the current EPA guidelines around hybrid cars. NPR's Michele Norris spoke with Csaba Csere, editor-in-chief of Car and Driver Magazine. A couple key points. One, the mileage problem out there is real, with hybrids cars being "25% over-rated" relative to what's officially advertised. Two, the antiquated EPA guidelines are a BIG part of the problem, and even preventing auto OEMs telling consumers that the car ACTUALLY gets less mileage than advertised. The good news is that EPA is NOW collecting comments on its gas mileage estimates from the auto industry and the public. The comment window ends in July, so if you care about this issue, PLEASE send your feedback.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Seeds of Early Enthusiasm

First, a thanks to all of you who have shared thoughtful, provocative, and constructive comments -- pro or con -- directly to me via e-mail or on this blog. There's an incredible amount of "passion" around this subject, and despite the tough questions being raised (mine included), I just sense that EVERYONE wants this hybrid-technology to work and succeed. Second, I do want to reiterate that when I first bought my hybrid, my enthusiasm and excitement was so off the charts that I made my own iMovie about my experience, which my wife Erika filmed. (Blame Steve Jobs for making iMovie so "Add-Water-And-Stir.")Key message: there's no one on Planet Earth that wants to be bigger advocate of hybrid technology that this author. That said, to ensure this technology takes off and finds a mass audience, the advertising, promotion, and dealer messaging must set proper expectations, especially with "early" buyers who other consumers (and even the media) look to for early insight. Thanks again for all the feedback, and keep it coming.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

The Passion of Hybrid Mavens

My IQ about the nature and behavior of so-called "product mavens" has increased 5-fold over the past 48 hours. Why? Because ever since word leaked about my Hybrid "opportunities" (I'm taking the diplomatic high-road), all manner of hybrid enthusiasts and experts have zapped me with e-mail, links to their blog entries, or comments on THIS blog. And that's before you count the absolutely amazing astonishing discussion Slashdot triggered less than 24 hours ago on the subject. I've been studying online consumer behavior for nearly ten years, and the discussion flow I followed on Slashdot blew me away. Wickedly informed. Triumph of the nerds. These folks are the "gold standard" of product experts. That's not to suggest my character was left unblemmished in this constructively enlightening back and forth on the Hybrid cars. (Believe me, passionate "mavens" will defend their brand through rain, sleet, or snow, and many of these early adopters took issue with my raising tough questions.) But the vast majority of contributors were incredibly well informed, displayed tenacious understanding of technology (to the most intricate wiring detail), and while occasionally rude, generally anchored their comments to "action steps" or "how to fix your mess" advice. That's what I LOVE about the internet. So to the product mavens who elevated the discussion, thanks.

If one theme dominated all this Hybrid "buzz," I'd volunteer it as this: to get the miles, there are very specific steps one must diligently take to maximize the MPG factor. Don't drive fast. Check the tires. Careful on hills. Don't drive fast. No quick starts. No short trips. Turn off air conditioner. Use cruise control. Don't drive fast. Don't use the stereo. Ignore the meter, focus on the actual tank! Read the manual! Wait for 5,000 miles. No speeding. Wait for 10,000 miles. No, 15,000 miles. I now have several books worth of advice, and many of these awesome experts have offered to come check out my car,which is incredible. (That's what I call a passionate sense of "ownership" in the success of a car, and there are thousands out there who -- let the record be clear -- PASSIONATELY love their Hybrids.)

I now feel smarter and wiser. But not terribly satisfied. I've tried just about everyone of those tactics, with little success. Perhaps I just picked the wrong hybrid. But there's a bigger issue. One presumes at purchase that you don't need to be a PhD to derive the basic benefits articulated, advertised, and promoted by the seller. You just assume you'll get the benefits. If the Honda Hybrid requires all those steps to get close to an advertised mileage, car buyers should be given a courtesy heads-up at that critical "moment of truth" when they are considering spending several thousand more dollars for hybrid technology. Setting expectations is everything, and the reality is that Hybrid owners are so passionate about being on the ground-floor of an exciting new technology that they'll likely zero in on other benefits beyond mileage -- e.g. low emissions. But if folks are running through the dealer door because the media is pointing to "gas savings" as primary benefit, the seller needs to set expectations. What we've learned over the past 48 hours is that the web is cultivating a form of "Marketing Darwinism" that holds product claims to a higher standard of transparency, informed by real users with real experiences. Like those incredible folks from Slashdot.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

"Mo Miles" in News

I sincerely hope this story takes a more positive turn. It's all pretty frustrating. This from Wired News yesterday.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

No Response Yet -- What the Heck Is Going On???

Two facts are undeniable at this point. First, my Honda Civic hybrid car barely gets 32 MPG, ridiculously less than the advertised 47-48 advertising mileage. Second, my dear wife -- a no-nonsense brand manager at a local company that made it's name on defensible ad promises like "99.9% Pure...It Floats" -- thinks I'm a spineless wimp and wants to huck my "Mo Miles" license plate into the Ohio River. If only Honda were more sensitized to the fact that half this darn exercise is about "saving face." Meanwhile, I haven't heard a peep from Honda in response to my last letter to both the VP of Sales and the CEO of the Advertising Agency. Very frustrating, especially when Honda is cranking out press releases about hybrid sales, and your wife is calling you a wimp. Yo Honda, what up? Don't leave me hangin' like this.