Nobody Knows How To Market an Eco Car

Now that more than one million hybrids have been sold, one might think that automakers have figured out how to sell environmentally friendly vehicles. With demand for “eco” cars at an all-time high, the approach to this growing market segment is more critical than ever. However, based on current marketing moves and machinations, no single technique has emerged as the winning tactic.

Different auto companies are taking distinct approaches, ranging from almost invisible badging on models that are virtually identical to less environmentally cars—to unique hybrid-specific models like the Toyota Prius. The confusion is exemplified by recent steps taken by European automakers Renault and Peugeot, which are setting up “mini-brands” that feature only the companies’ top environmental vehicles.

Renault launched its “eco2” brand and fellow French carmaker Peugeot is rolling out its “Blue Lion,” not to be confused with the “Bluetec” and “Bluemotion” labels used in association with clean diesel technology for Mercedes and Volkswagen respectively. (Apparently, blue is the new green, which is the new black.)

What do these labels really mean? Peugeot and Renault have fairly strict criteria for models to qualify for the environmental badging—greenhouse gas emissions of less than 140 g/km, 95 percent recyclability, and low-CO2 manufacturing.

For example, the Renault Logan eco2 achieves an incredibly low 97 g/km of CO2 and was a featured entry in last year’s Challenge Bibendum. Eco2 and Blue Lion focus on manufacturing processes as well as fuel efficiency. Renault said that it plans to expand the eco2 branding throughout models in the Renault-Nissan automotive world. Meanwhile, VW’s Bluemotion diesels and European an entire line of vehicles called “Prius.” That idea apparently is going nowhere.

The General Motors eco-sub-brand for hybrids called “Green Line” has also made little traction. Perhaps that is, in part, why GM’s Volt, a plug-in hybrid due out in late 2010, will be released as a plain old Chevy.

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  • Bryce

    Trying to rebrand and rebadge specifically for a hybrid is a little silly. They should just put them under their normal brand names. They will come with better reputations that way and far better financial backing from the company, whether it be Toyota or GM or whomever. Besides, creating and marketing a new brand all together is a ridiculous endeavor and lots of time, money, and effort in explaining the new badge could easily be circumvented by simply keeping the Toyota or Chevy badge on the vehicle.

  • Jerry

    “Hybrid synergy drive” does not roll off your tongue but the simple blue wave is easy to identify. Make the hybrid badge only incrementally bigger and keep making “regular Hybrid cars” a la Camry and with some time Fusion and Malibu.

  • TD

    Does anyone really look to the car companies for innovative commercials and marketing? How many car commercials have there been with a car going around winding curves or with a jet or something fast? The last car marketing campaign of any note was the launch of the new beetle a few eons ago at today’s pace.

    Its no surprise that car companies don’t know how to market. Toyota is still trying to market the Corolla as a hip car for young people despite the evidence that its older commuters looking for an economical way to work who are buying them.

  • Shines

    I recall a Ford Escape Hybrid commercial starting out with birds and other forest animals frolicking in the woods. I don’t think that really helped Escape sales.
    Hybrids and eco friendly cars are still transportation vehicles.
    We are talking propulsion systems.
    Do you want your (whatever car name you want here) with a V6, Diesel4, Hybrid or electric… ?
    Sure some cars like the Prius come only with hybrid power, Remember the Chevy Sprint? It came only with a 3 cyl engine…
    Maybe this will change, but most manufacturers offer options for every model. For example the Ford Escape and Nissan Altima offer options for V6, 4 cyl. or Hybrid…

  • Skeptic

    It’s radical, I know, but how about selling cars based on fuel consumption? Too radical. Right.

  • Waltz

    I must say only a certain amt. of people buy hybrids bc of CO2 ratios or the recycling factor “eco drivers”. To sell to a larger general population it comes down to having good MPG’s not necessarily about saving the earth, like it or not. I would say cars under 20k are not here nor is the Chevy Volt. Also here is limited supplies of certain hybrids so its not like your local dealership is advertising on TV to get you into a hybrid. When most hybrids switch to better batteries and driving systems, marketers can say say this car gets 50/60mpg saving you from annoying trips to the gas station. Sell hybrids as a convenience to to consumers and make more SUV and sedan type hybrids to sell to the general masses.

  • Shines

    I think this article is indirectly saying that there is no single point to sell cars on.
    Because of all the options people are going to buy cars for various reasons. Most of us on Hybrid Cars would choose primarily on fuel economy, but some people want bigger, some want red, some want 4 doors, some chrome rims and growling exhaust. Some people will only buy GM cars. Some folks put safety first, others utility, others overall cost savings (buying used). Auto maker marketers have to try and make buying green a need or make it cool to be green. With gas prices high right now, all the auto makers are trying to say what “Great” gas mileage their cars get. Soon the new 2009 models will arrive in the showrooms and they can try to sell new “features” and new “styling”. Hopefully, fuel efficiency, reduced emmissions and alternative fuel options for vehicles will continue to rise…

  • Bobby B

    eco2? I like it.

  • Anonymous

    Just more excuses to sell gas guzzlers.

  • chukcha

    Mmm…creating a separate brand (corporation) just for eco friendly vehicles. Smart accounting tactic, but not very smart marketing tactic. Why don’t they just put in the mild hybrid technology in some (or all) new cars and call it a “green package”. So, when you buy a new car you can choose between a sports package, luxury package and green package… That sounds good to me.
    How come we don’t have cars with 97 g/km of CO2 ?

  • chukcha

    I was in a local auto mall yesterday and I checked out the new Malibu Hybrid. Let me tell ya; I was impressed. The amount of standard equipment that is inside (even in the base model) is excellent for the price. Plus all those neatly hidden storage compartments and a sliding arm rest in the center, relatively nice interior… it got me thinking that’s for sure. By the way, I noticed that the battery those mild hybrids have is very small. Way smaller than full hybrids. I don’t understand what is all the fuss about Cobasys and their problems with delivering batteries for GM. That freaking battery is tiny (like 80cm x 20cm). I cannot believe that such a well funded corporation can’t churn out those tiny batteries by the truck loads! I got a feeling that Chevron has something to with this… I’m not sure what to think.

  • Bryce

    chuckya, nice to see ya….lol it has been ages….or atleast 2 weeks.

    Anyways, the interior of the Malibu has indeed greatly improved over the old one. Compared to my girlfriends mom’s older Malibu, the new one blows it out of the water. I especially love that dash board. : ) (my mom was looking at sedans at an auto mall, and she is one that doesn’t really know anything about cars or anything like their reputations, but she was blown away by the Malibu, but the Camry we looked at disapointed her, and she drove Toyotas only when she was younger. I thought the dash was pretty funny. It was exactly the same as the plain dash from our ten year old suburban. Definetly not a selling point.)

    O and the 2009 edition of the malibu hybrid gains 2 mpg in both the city and highway for 26/34. Imagine where those numbers will go once they put little lithium packs into those cars. : )

  • Boom Boom

    You know a hybrid model is lame when the proponents spend most of their time talking about the cup-holders and dashboard. Chucka/Bryce, have you actually tried to buy a Malibu hybrid? Did the dealer tell you that GM really isn’t making enough of them to go around, even though they’ve only sold 349 in the first half of this year? (Compared to over 2,000 of those disappointing Camrys hybrids.)

    O and Bryce forgot to mention that even with the increase of 2 mpg, the Malibu still gets 6 mpg worse in the City and 5 mpg worse overall than the Camry. It only gets 3 mpg better overall than a regular Malibu. The reason the Cobasys battery is so small is that isn’t doing much of anything to make the car go forward. The Energizer or Duracell companies sell batteries that can do that.

    GM is dragging it’s own name through the mud by trying to pretend that the Hybrids they’re putting on the market are the same as their competition. At least Ford is only putting out Hybrids that actually have a significant increase in MPG (and that they’re actually getting out on the roads…. Ford put more hybrids on the roads with 2 models than GM did with 5 this year.)

  • Bryce

    O yes indeed, the Camry comes with a full blown hybrid drivetrain, but I don’t think it is any secret that the Malibu is a mild hybrid. Those purchasing it I would suspect are aware of the differences. The fuel economy numbers and their relative prices reflect this. The low production numbers are to prevent any problems with warranties, which was wise considering what indeed did happen with the first batch of Cobasys batteries. However, Malibu’s highway numbers are better, which makes sense because the little motor is just always giving the engine some extra umph instead ever really driving it so it can actually devote energy during highway times. So it would probably be a better purchase for an individual commuting to work and what not. My post originally was not directed at the Camry’s drivetrain though, but its interior styling, which I found kind of lacking. That dashboard that I saw coupled a kind of old looking radio and air conditioning interface reminded me of older vehicles, like my mother’s before mentioned Suburban from 10 years ago. You don’t need to get all defensive my friend, I know the little Toyota is solid under the hood. I am just saying styling needs some work. Take some constructive criticism.

  • Forrest

    I don’t think it matters how any type of car is advertised. I have never had a pleasant car buying experience. Commercials all lie because most of the time, whoever makes the commercials is not selling the cars. Car Salesmen suck. They will rip you off for every penny they can. Instead of car manufacturers making new commercials, they should just make the dealers that carry their brands easier to deal with.

  • Boom Boom

    The folks that need the constructive criticism is GM. The new Malibu has indeed beat out the Camry in a number of head to head tests, when both of them are non-hybrid models. I’ve driven both and the Malibu is one of the best mid-sized sedans out there. It is solid. I just hate to see GM out there trying to say they’re in the hybrid game and then putting out crap like “mild” hybrid as an “alternative” to the Camry/Altima hybrids. Ford came out with their hybrid Escape and managed to achieve the same percentage increases over their non-hybrid versions as Toyota and Honda, and they managed to get enough on the market so that people could actually get one. GM advertised all their “gas-friendly to gas-free” nonsense and then didn’t actually deliver on the car. And the relative prices are almost the same. The Malibu hybrid lists at 24,695. Camry 25,650. Altima 25,480 (A Toyota Hybrid in Nissan clothing).

    GM is not advertising their hybrids as “MILD” and doesn’t make it clear that the Malibu/Aura/Vue are weaker than the competition in MPG improvements. They’re using the hybrid name, which Toyota/Honda/Ford have proven actually saves gas, and trying to ride on the coat tails. Consumers aren’t fools and eventually they’ll figure it out. At that point, they’ll paint all GM hybrids, mild or otherwise, with the same brush (i.e not as good as the “Real” hybrids from Toyota.) That will be a deep hole to advertise their way out of.

  • Armand

    Anyone who wants to know why it’s so hard to market environmentally friendly products need not look any further than the article before this one.

    You’ll get a very clear idea as to why it’s so tough.

  • steved28

    Well said Boom Boom. As an owner of an Altima hybrid, I hate it when the GM stuff gets put in the same class as my car.

  • Armand


    Agree with most of what you said except for the part regarding smart comsumers. I think most people who buy GM products are A) loyalists out of sheer blindness, B) Nationalist types who won’t buy anything but American…usually GM or Ford, and C) just plain dumb.

    GM counts on all three points to sell their cars. They’ve been making junk for the past 30 years or more. They have the money to advertise to a bunch of sheeple about mild hybrids this, that…and make it successful…even while its competitors are producing more reliable, better quality, more efficient, better performing products.

    The mind is an amazing thing isn’t it?

  • Boom Boom

    I’m not willing to make the same broad generalizations about the common folks and their ability to grow wool, but I appreciate your willingness to be the make those statements (many of which are mostly true) and be the lightning rod for flaming e-mails.

    Good fun.

  • Armand

    Anything to make things more fun!

  • Bryce

    Fun it is indeed. : )

    yea, the mild certainly doesn’t compare in fuel economy ratings and GM doesn’t have plans to put the 2 mode in the Malibu for a little while on account of the fact that it is really too big for it. It was designed originally for bigger trucks and SUVs. Luckily for us consumers, they are already in the process of developing the 2nd edition, if you will, of the 2 mode system, so that should be interesting. The non-hybrid models though are definetley a different story. I think it is funny that people think Toyota is the more fuel efficient brand. (it definetly comes from its previously acrued good reputation for cars, which were fine indeed, but lately I feel they have been dropping the ball) The Camry returns 21/31 numbers, and that is with its manual (standard) which is brough down to 21/30 with the automatic. The Malibu 6 speed auto returns 22/33. What would be really be beautiful if those engineers figured it out that if they put that 6speed into the mild hybrid, they could get 26/37 mpg outa that thing.

    As for prices, I figure Chevrolet is charging such a similar price because….well…..they can. They are able to ride the hybrid name coupled with the nice redesign straight into a profitable Malibu. The system probably really is relatively cheap, but the current market allows them to pretty much do whatever the hell they want. lol

    I have much love for the Altima hybrid. *warm feelings* : )

    As for your sheeple Mr. Noz……

    Sheeple must have good taste cuz that Caddy CTS that is selling so well is gorgeous. Same can be said for the Malibu. The Cruze can’t get here fast enough. If their recent products (ie CTS, Traverse, Malibu) are any model, than it will be done well coupled with the high mpg numbers, it could be a real winner. Besides, anything could look better than that damn ugly Cobalt sedan. (though the coupe version isn’t half bad)

    I am also looking forward to Honda’s new hybrid lineup. Should be interesting.

    P.S. Noz, find me something that performs better than the Pontiac G8. (that is weird that you would talk about performance though…..are you feeling ok)

  • Armand

    Performs as well as a Pontiac G8?

    Uhhh…the G8 hasn’t set any standards in anything frankly. Can it even hold a candle to a 335i or IS 350 other than in straightline acceleration? All that had to be done with a V8?

    Please…let’s not even get into the quality differences.

  • Bryce

    Have it your way. : )

    No sheeple argument…..surprise surprise……

  • chukcha

    The GM is renewing their lineup and I think they do a pretty decent job right now. Malibu, Pontiac G8, the upcoming Cruz, 300 are all very good looking cars in my opinion. Don’t forget that exterior/interior design is more important for most people than a propulsion system. Cup-holders and dashboard design are super important for my wife and we all know that when the little lady is happy then everyone is happy…
    The engineering team of Malibu understands that and they did a good job on the Malibu. You can see that those guys put their heart into the Malibu. That’s what they need to do for all other models. I didn’t try to buy the Malibu Hybrid, so I cannot say anything about the buying experience. The dealer that showed me around the Malibu was good and not pushy at all. In general though, I like the fact that I can haggle over the price in a GM dealership. When I went to Toyota dealership, a while ago, they refused to haggle and that turned me right off. I like to feel that fought and got a good deal (that’s a personal preference…).
    In terms of MPG and Full Hybrid vs Start-Stop technology I prefer not to focus too much on the MPG because both technologies are basically CRAP. In both cars you still HAVE to use gasoline and + or – 6 mpg is not changing anything because the difference is only a few dollars a month or less depending on your driving pattern.
    So, I’m waiting for PHEV and I will only buy PHEV because it’s the only truly significant technology.

  • Bryce

    Agreed. The new redesigns are excellent…….though, I am pretty sure the 300 is a Chrysler product and not GM.

    PHEV is a beautiful system and I can’t wait for it. Luckily for me , it will have been out for about a year once I graduate in 2011 and hopefully cost will be down a bit and any potential kinks will have already been worked out. If it is still out of my range, there is always the Cruze. : )

  • aCAGAL

    I have some good ideas on how to market a PHEV, or the EV with extended range vehicles, and Green has little to do with why I think these cars will work.

  • Bryce

    ………what is it???

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