Things have been getting a bit testy in the high-profile, low-sales world of electric vehicles. Late last month at the Los Angeles Auto Show, a Fiat executive took a none-too-veiled shot at Nissan for the styling of its Leaf. And Nissan quickly shot right back at some of Fiat’s own design executions.
The spat began when Matt Davis, head of Fiat product marketing in the United States, was talking about the coming all-electric version of the Fiat 500 and told Bloomberg News on Nov. 28, “Let’s be honest, ugliness is probably one of the worst forms of pollution. The Fiat 500e proves that you do not have to give up on good looks to deliver an electric car.”
Now, in Davis’s defense, he was absolutely right about the design of most all-electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids so far. They’re at best uninspired, at worst an arrogant reflection of the notion that because they’re powered in a “superior” fashion, such models don’t need to look like conventional vehicles either. So you end up with the minimalist wedge shape of the Toyota Prius, the prosaic design of the Chevrolet Volt — and the pragmatic styling package comprised by Leaf.
With that in mind, fast forward to Fiat’s first US campaign for the 500e — one using the oldest rule in the marketer’s playbook (“Sex Sells”). The racy new commercial aims to estabish its EV as the hot, sexy car in the category.[more]
How Chrysler describes Fiat’s new “Test Track” commercial, above:
Billed as the only electric that turns “you” on, the ad shows a female test-driver entering the passenger’s side of the vehicle, then the car whips around a curve, losing control. The crew rushes to her rescue only to find her and the driver in a very precarious position. The new Fiat 500e: environmentally sexy.
It’s also titillating car-buyers with another new commercial: “Topless,” a follow-up to “Seduction,” the Fiat Arbath spot that ran during the 2012 Super Bowl:
As for how the LA Auto Show tiff played out: Simon Sproule, head of Nissan’s global marketing communications, defended the Leaf as a “fully function” car for families and daily use to Automotive News. And he called the Fiat 500e a me-too car to appease regulators, contrasted with Leaf, which was designed as an all-electric from the ground up and has bravely led the EV charge.
And Sproule made an addendum that some might view as gratuitous, but without which this tussle wouldn’t be as much fun. “Let’s face it, Fiat has not shied away from controversial styling themselves,” Sproule told Auto News. “Many would describe many of their products as visual pollution. Take a long, hard look at the Fiat Doblo.”
If you do, you’ll note that the Doblo, indeed, looks like the unfortunate result of a mating of a compact pickup truck, a shrunken Chevrolet Suburban and some sort of panel van.
Interestingly, Toyota already was ahead of this mini-tempest because it has indicated recently that it wants to change up the styling of the growing Prius family of hybrids from the original wedge, which has grown tired even to many fans of the brand.
None of this is to suggest that electrified-vehicle segment suddenly will become a font of daring automotive design. But a new approach couldn’t hurt. Consumers wouldn’t mind another reason to purchase.