Ford Motor Company's all-electric 2012 Focus is hitting the consumer market, and Ford is taking no chances. After watching GM's highly regarded Chevy Volt become a "political punching bag," Ford has been taking steps to build a wall of mainstream American love around the Focus EV, practically daring the pundits (okay, so Rush Limbaugh) to attack.
Ford launched a preemptive salvo last week when it announced that none other than the all-American sporting organization NASCAR will host the Focus EV as its pace car for an upcoming race at the Richmond International Speedway. That says plenty right there - take a shot at the Focus EV, and you're going to irritate millions of NASCAR fans - but Ford has even more in store.
Chevy Volt was on the right track
It's instructive to take a look at the experience of GM's Volt, which has recently seen its sales figures rise despite the negative commentary from certain quarters. When GM launched the Volt, the company knew there would be some pushback, and it did all the right things. It designed a great car (Motor Trend's Car of the Year), and it accommodated the public's unfamiliarity with EV technology by giving the Volt a gasoline engine as a backup.
GM also launched a hearts-and-minds campaign by staging a cross-country Volt trip through red and blue states from Texas to New York City.
However, in hindsight, the cross-country trip lacked a strong social media and multi-media platform that might have reached a wider audience. The campaign also lacked a celebrity spokesperson, as several commenters on a Volt forum have noted.
More importantly, GM could not have anticipated the vicious, over-the-top nature of the attacks on its product - which by all rights should have been celebrated as a stellar example of all-American automotive innovation.
Sustainability, Ford, NASCAR and Hollywood
With those lessons under its belt, Ford has taken a different tack. The pundits (okay, so Rush again) are fond of identifying Hollywood with something non-mainstream called "liberals" (aka greenies), but in the real world there is a close connection between green choices, car aficionados and the mainstream entertainment industry.
NASCAR has become a strong platform for introducing the public to new sustainable automotive products, conservation and other environmental stewardship concepts and alternative energy including solar power. Among recent partners are the actor Bryton and driver/actor Patrick Dempsey of Grey's Anatomy, who recently teamed up with Trina Solar.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that following close on the heels of its NASCAR coup, Ford has announced a new mashup with the distinctly Hollywood-connected enterprise SHFT.com. SHFT.com, which started up about two years ago, is a multimedia project of the actor/filmmaker/environmentalist (and more - this guy is busy!) Adrian Grenier and his business partner, producer Peter Glatzer.
Ford and SHFT.com
The partnership began last November, and the latest initiatives draw on the power of SHFT's documentary filmmaking connections to raise public awareness about electric vehicle technology and a wide range of other sustainable solutions. One key element is a ten-part documentary series is called "The Big SHFT: 10 Innovators Changing Our World," as Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford explains:
"Sustainability is the biggest issue facing business in the 21st century, and the problem will not be solved by one person or group. How we answer the challenge of the future of mobility will have a lasting impact on generations to come. By partnering with organizations like SHFT, we are able to inspire people to make smart decisions about the products they choose today."
Ford also used the announcement to leverage publicity for a raft of its other recent sustainability initiatives, including the use of retired paper currency as a source of cellulose for renewable car components.
Shorter version: In your face, Rushbo.
Follow Tina Casey on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.