If you were to visualize the most enthusiastic supporter of the much-touted Chevrolet Volt—someone who rallies thousands on its behalf, who blogs daily, whose influence and prestige garners invites to tour GM facilities and speak with top GM brass—what would that person look like? Take a moment and think about it.
Did you envision a mild-mannered suburban neurologist? Well, meet Lyle Dennis.
In the kind of unlikely story that only the Internet could spawn, Dennis was inspired to create GM-Volt.com after reading a web story about the launch of the Volt concept vehicle on January 7, 2007, at the Detroit auto show.
Always something of a technology enthusiast, Dennis started “building websites for fun” in 1994. And he’d become increasingly concerned about the oil economy and the US dependence on imported oil. He hadn’t followed cars, Dennis says, but something about the Volt concept “struck a chord”—and inspired him to read more. Three days later, he registered the domain GM-Volt, and put up his first post on January 12.
Interest built slowly at first, as he linked to news stories about the Volt, both commenting on them and inviting user feedback. Perhaps “10 to 100 people a day” visited the site initially, but slowly the numbers grew.
Then, in June of that year—to his surprise—he got an invitation to meet with Nick Zielinski, the chief engineer of the Volt team. GM flew him to Detroit, a city he’d never visited, brought him to GM headquarters, and introduced him to team members. The company also included him among the press at an invited media event to mark progress in the Challenge X competition among college teams to build cleaner, more economical cars.
It was part of a controversial program by the Volt public relations team to reach out and embrace not just traditional press—meaning “buff books” like Car & Driver—but also digital media, including bloggers. And it worked: Dennis wrote about his visit, about the things he’d learned, and about meeting Zielinski and others.