GM Looks to Recharge Chevy Volt's Image With New Campaign

TV, Print Effort Aims to Reassure Public of Brand's Safety and Ingenuity

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Hard on the heels of Wednesday's government hearing focused on safety issues involving Chevrolet's hybrid electric Volt, General Motors has implemented a marketing campaign featuring a 30-second TV spot and newspaper ads to reinforce the Volt's image as a safe, innovative car.

The spot will debut on the Fox News network and eventually land in other network programming, said Chevy spokesman Rob Peterson. It was created by Chevrolet's agency, Goodby Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco, though the creative account is in review.

The ad features a voice-over by actor-comedian Tim Allen, and uses the Detroit neighborhood of Hamtramck as a backdrop (the Volt is built in Hamtramck). "This isn't just the car we wanted to build ... it's the car America had to build," Mr. Allen reads over the images of an assembly line. "From the heart of Detroit ... Chevy runs deep."

In its open-letter-format newspaper ads, GM CEO Dan Akerson writes that the Volt is "the most significant step in GM's history to give customers a choice beyond oil" and "a technological 'moon shot'. ... Yes, the world is learning from Detroit again. And we couldn't be prouder."

"With all the information that has been communicated about the Volt in recent months, this is an opportunity to set the facts straight," said Mr. Peterson. "There was a lot of speculation that made it difficult to determine what is fact and what is fiction."

In November, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigation after two incidents in which the Volt's battery pack either caught fire or emitted sparks following intense crash testing. No injuries were reported in the incidents, but GM offered existing Volt owners loaner cars and the option of selling back the cars.

Mr. Akerson told a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee during a two-hour hearing that GM and U.S. regulators tried several times to replicate the initial fire and only once, under conditions unlikely to occur in real-world driving, did the test produce a second blaze. "For all the loose talk about fires, we are here today because tests by regulators resulted in a fire under lab conditions that no driver would experience," he said.

The NHTSA closed the investigation last week, and said it does not believe that the Volt or other electric vehicles pose a greater risk of fire than gasoline-powered ones. Starting next month, GM is planning, under a voluntary repair act, to make modifications to the Volt's battery pack and install a warning light on the dashboard in the event of a problem with the battery's cooling system, Mr. Peterson said.

The negative publicity had prompted some dealers to cut back on Volt orders for their inventories, Automotive News reported. "We expect to see orders pick up" after the retrofitted equipment is in place, Mr. Peterson said. In 2011, Chevrolet has sold 7,671 Volts in the U.S. vs. its target of 10,000 units.

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