As one of the thousands -- and possibly now tens of thousands -- of Chevy Volt owners out there, I received a pretty neat surprise in the mail last week from General Motors (NYSE: GM ) .
It was a Volt owner's kit that included a quick reference guide, a commemorative book, and some tools to turn a Volt driver into a car ambassador.
Let's talk up the book first. It's a hardbound, thick, 145-page coffee-table-quality book. Chevrolet Volt: Charging into the Future goes over the car's origins and evolution with crisp color photographs along the way.
The commemorative book is a viral winner; it is a conversation piece when guests come over.
However, also included in the kit are information cards that you can give to people who are curious about the Volt, and a window cling with a QR code so that even strangers who pass by your car can use their smartphones to scan the code and learn more about the car.
Is it a coincidence that Chevy shipped out these kits during the same week that Tesla Motors (Nasdaq: TSLA ) began deliveries of its Model S sedan? That's certainly possible, though we can definitely call this a shrewd marketing move for a company that hasn't had a whole lot of success selling its plug-in car, which has a small gas tank to give the vehicle hundreds of miles of additional range after the roughly 40 miles that it gets on electric between charges.
GM's revolutionary car has hit a few speed bumps along the way. Soft sales forced Chevy into prolonged factory closures and ridiculously cheap lease deals.
It's been a rough run for plug-in cars in general. Lithium ion battery maker A123 (Nasdaq: AONE ) executed an embarrassing recall and a few Tesla Roadsters had to deal with bricked batteries. Gas prices have also been falling sharply in recent months, and that's bad news for electric cars that were starting to gain traction as the pain at the pump was intensifying.
For better or worse, GM in general and the Volt in particular have become political hot potatoes. The government bailout of GM and Chrysler has turned the company and its car into ice breakers for partisan posturing on both sides.
No matter where you stand -- General Motors or Government Motors -- one has to admire the Volt's savvy marketing approach here. Turning drivers into free ambassadors is pretty darn brilliant.
Hit the road
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