The good, the bad and the ugly of GM’s Super Bowl ad.By Stephen Golub, A Promised Land, February 8, 2021
If you watched the Super Bowl, or even if you didn’t, you might well have seen the General Motors ad that features Will Ferrell pitching GM’s electric vehicles. It opens with Ferrell explaining that “Norway sells way more electric cars per capita than the U.S.” He then declares, “Well, I won’t stand for it,” before punching a globe and claiming that, with GM’s new electric battery, “we’re going to crush those lugers. CRUSH THEM! Let’s go, America.”
Ferrell, aka America’s loveable oaf, goes on to recruit Saturday Night Live’s Kenan Thompson and actress/comedian/celebrity Awkwafina to meet him in Norway, with him driving an electric Cadillac and them an electric Hummer to somehow get there. He actually ends up in Sweden and his two pals in Finland. But that’s beside the point.
Because the point’s been made: America will lead the world in EV use.
The ad doubles down on GM’s recent commitment to stop manufacturing gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2035. As this Atlantic article explains, that’s quite the about-face for the car company, given how it advocated for two regressive Trump administration positions: a rollback of anti-pollution rules and an attempt to block California’s regulation of vehicle emissions. Indeed, GM has been quite the laggard in this regard, as Ford and other automobile manufacturers opposed the administration on both issues.
Given how two-faced GM has been, we can’t be certain it will deliver on its promise until it’s further down the line. Still, the change itself couples with the company’s very public declaration of the move – you can’t get more public than a Super Bowl commercial – to reflect a decisive shift in the right direction for GM and the automotive industry more generally.
And it makes so much sense, even above and beyond environmental repercussions. According to the Atlantic piece:
In the future, Americans’ mass adoption of electric vehicles will seem inevitable. After all, EVs cost less to run than gas-powered cars (because electricity is cheaper than gas); they require cheaper maintenance; they break less; they are quieter. For many types of drivers—daily commuters, for instance, or errands-around-towners—they are already preferable to gas-powered cars.
GM’s good news comes with a message that should curb our enthusiasm: Note that the vehicles it uses in the Super Bowl commercial are a Caddy and a Hummer. As environmental/energy expert Philip Warburg notes, “GM’s soon-to-be released electric vehicle flagship, the three-ton, 1,000-horsepower all-electric Hummer, stands as a warning that American auto manufacturers will not be abandoning their energy-wasteful giants, even as they move from internal combustion engines to electric power.”
Warburg goes on to caution that, even as the Biden Administration thankfully steers the United States toward an EV future, it must still focus on exhaust emissions from fossil fuel vehicles and on restraining vehicle size:
First, while the prospect of an all-electric vehicle fleet is alluring, we are decades away from achieving that goal. We therefore can’t afford to shrug our shoulders while most of our cars and trucks continue to rely on gasoline and diesel fuel.
Second, an electrified U.S. fleet dominated by oversized SUVs and pickups will consume substantially more energy than a leaner line of electric vehicles, making it much harder for clean electricity sources to edge out the gas and coal plants that still supply most of our electricity.
However affable a face Ferrell puts on GM’s shift, then, the government and public still need to force and pressure car companies to head in the right direction.
Though this ad will never win any awards for subtlety, it nevertheless plays up the unwittingly Ugly American in a creative and positive way. Ferrell’s taking umbrage at the idea that Norway (!!!) is beating America in EV usage is really a knock at the notion of any country besting us in this regard.
What’s significant here is that GM is making EV progress a matter of pride and patriotism. The commercial plays a bit on our national ignorance by bringing together the mindless “We’re Number One!” notion with Ferrell’s globe-piercing display and his little group arriving not in Norway but neighboring nations.
But hey, if a good-natured but cluelessly competitive American stereotype serves a good cause by highlighting how we must catch up with other countries, I’m all for it. At least in this instance, the Ugly American is a beautiful thing to behold.[Hat tip: MS]
Benicia resident Stephen Golub offers excellent perspective on his blog, A Promised Land: Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.
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