GM: We Are Unique, Special and Very Different

Joel Ewanick, a Volt evangelist

I joined a group of reporters for a dinner with some General Motors executives last night in Silicon Valley to talk about the Chevy Volt. The execs wanted to talk about the Volt’s pricing and how they will market it, something they acknowledge will likely be more difficult than what they’ve done for any other GM vehicle. I laid out the pricing and some marketing plans in my story in the AOL DailyFinance.

You tend to get more details when you get to interview sources in person. Especially over dinner, which provides more time to ask questions and lets you watch them behave and react to inquiries. The headliner of the night was Joel Ewanick, vice president of marketing for North America, who announced the $41K suggested retail price and rattled off reasons why the Volt is, like, the best invention since the internal combustion engine.

It was easy to see why GM poached him from Nissan after Nissan had just lured him from Hyundai. In fact, he spent only about six weeks at Nissan. Dressed more casually than some other GM officials at the dinner – no jacket or tie – Joel seemed personable and spoke with a lot of swagger. He reminded me of the cowboys in the movies and in real life — I met a few when I was living in the California Central Valley.  Here are a few of his comments:

“This is the car of tomorrow. This is the future of the cars. General Motors is leading the charge.”

“Competitors? In our minds, no one.”

“You get two cars in one.”

Joel said GM designed the Volt “for 75 percent of the Americans.” I don’t think $41K is the right price for the masses, even after you factor in the $7,500 federal tax credit. You can get upgrades such as leather seats, nicer wheels and cool paint – the premium version of the Volt will start at $44,600.

He is getting a Volt and planning a road trip from Michigan to Los Angeles, where he once lived. He got a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Cal State Northridge in Southern California (here is his LinkedIn profile).

Given that the Volt is a hot commodity – GM only plans to produce 10,000 units for the first year — GM employees won’t get a discount for getting one.

The marketing people at GM still don’t like to call the Volt a plug-in hybrid. They call it “the industry’s first electric vehicle with extended-range capability.” Ok.

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