A few days ago we gave center stage to GM Spokesman, Rob Peterson, who in his own words described how Chevrolet is marketing the Volt in these first critical months and going forward.

His prelude at the EDTA conference in Washington, D.C. during Earth Week spoke of an over-riding philosophy of "transparency," and his first point out of four was “Relationships.”

Building on these are points number two and three – which we’ll cover in this segment. Respectively, these were, “The ownership experience,” and, “The amplification of the voices of the customers who are absolutely enthusiastic to drive electric vehicles.”

A deep-hue green image is part of the broader marketing picture. Here a pre-production Volt is shown in front of the GreenHouse, a custom-built 4,000 square-foot carbon neutral house in McLean, Va.

In describing Chevrolet’s deceptively simple strategy, Peterson also indicated GM has clearly assumed a leadership role in the electric vehicle market.

He did not talk about catchy marketing slogans, or slick media spots, but focused on how GM wants to foster authentic grassroots enthusiasm for the Chevrolet Volt.

No doubt advertising and more details are also part of the marketing mix, but following is the broad brush picture that Peterson saw fit to lay out to an audience of industry peers.

For those paying attention, his words were rather generously offered as a template for others to follow as GM has already paved the way since 2007, and all indicators are it is on the right path.

The Ownership Experience

“Last month we went out and surveyed our owners of the Chevrolet Volts that many of them have had for three-four months at a time. We asked them to simply describe in one phrase or one word ‘how do you feel about your Chevrolet Volt?’” Peterson said, “It was obvious that they liked the vehicles quite a bit. They came back [most often] with ‘it’s fun to drive.’ The ownership experience of the electric vehicle is something that most people don’t recognize until they get a chance to actually experience it themselves.”

Peterson mentioned to the audience he hoped they had a chance to sample the Volt at the test drive corral across the street from the convention center.

Creating buzz and excitement that won't disappoint is the name of the game. Here, Volt Product Specialists chauffeur media around an indoor test track Volts Feb. 9, 2011 at the Chicago Auto Show.

“Having spent a lot of time with customers, media, other stakeholders policy members, you put them in an electric vehicle – their response is almost instantaneous: ‘Wow. What an awesome experience,’ Peterson said in a calm, measured tone, “That is something that we need to continue to foster.”

And if Chevrolet is doing its job right, customer satisfaction should be comprehensive, he said.

“It doesn’t just happen on the drive experience. It has to happen in all elements of the ownership experience – from the charging experience inside the home, to the dealership experience, to the service experience to all elements of the ownership experience moving forward,” he said, “It is key that we deliver on the promises that we set forth. Whether it is the Volt or any other electric vehicle.”

His last statement hinted at a subtle bit of coaching for anyone who would like to succeed in the EV industry.

“Our customer experience shows that it’s fun to drive. One side benefit that we’ve been seeing a lot of late is that our owners are also enjoying the fact that gas prices are actually increasing. Because quite frankly, they’re not going to gas stations. They’re driving past them. And it’s a game to them. You know, how long can they go in between their need for beef jerky to get over to a gas station,” Peterson said, “Right now, with daily charging in the month of March, our customers averaged a thousand miles on a full tank of gas. They were going to gas stations about once every 30 days. And with a nine-gallon tank of gas and $4 per gallon, you’re talking about a gas bill of about $36 per month. That’s a pretty solid cost of ownership and a great ownership experience.”

The Voice of the Customer

“This young lady down in the front down here. That’s Mary Brazell and her father is James; James is a PR dream. Let’s call it that way. He is a retired VP of oil exploration for Texaco. He put his money down on the Chevrolet Volt almost 18 months before we came to market,” Peterson said, “He traveled all the way to Washington, D.C., from his home in Ashville just so he would be one of the first people to have one. He now owns it. He schedules his own events. He’s constantly on the road with his Volt, demonstrating the Volt and electric vehicle technology. In fact Mary told me yesterday that he is scheduled to participate in three Earth Day activities tomorrow and several other activities going along the way.”

About as strong a testimonial as Chevrolet could wish for: James Brazell - a retired oil company executive - gets a closer look at his new 2011 Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle Feb. 25, 2011 in Woodbridge, Va. (Photo by Mark Finkenstaedt for Chevrolet)

He also told of Matt Stehouwer who flew into a snow storm in New York City, then drove his new Volt back through that same storm to his home in Lansing, Mich.

Peterson said they are just two of many such real life tales of satisfied owners it has heard.

“These stories add to the credibility of electric vehicles. It’s their passion, their enthusiasm that will drive what we have right now which is early tech adopters. They’re going to drive the fast followers: that segment of people who don’t want to own the first technology, but quickly want to own the second one and want to be right behind them,” Peterson said, “They’re going to be the credibility that gets those people into that marketplace even sooner. So we have countless stories like this. It’s our job – from Chevrolet and that at the EDTA and the industry – to amplify these voices to make sure that masses hear the story of electric vehicles.”

This is vital, he said …

“So that others can experience what it’s like to drive electrically. What it’s like to drive past the gas station, what it’s like to charge up at your home, what it’s like to experience paying on average 11 cents per kWh or 3 cents per mile, versus 12 cents per mile or even higher,” he said, “These are the ways that we’re going to market the vehicle to the masses.”

Simple and real is the best policy

This policy may sound elementary, and is probably not the first time you heard of customer testimonials, but for Chevrolet it is working. If you do a Google news search, week after week you will find human interest stories around the country about the novel new American extended range electric car called the Volt.

This effort is exactly what GM is attempting to foster. For a company that admits it started with credibility at a low point in 2007, the need to earn the respect of new owners is its first priority in order to continue improving its already growing credibility as fast as possible.

Of course getting Hollywood stars to do a photo-op also never hurts. Eva Rojas (L) and Vanessa Branch are shown on the green carpet of Global Green USA's 2011 Pre-Oscar Party, Feb. 23, 2011.

Speaking with Peterson in follow-up, he agreed a lot of people are accustomed to not knowing what to believe, but hearing positive stories from real people is plausible.

From what we can ascertain, it is the advertising that money cannot buy that Chevrolet values the most.

And thus far, with numerous awards, positive media recognition, and the voices of real owners, this has not been too difficult. The Volt is the outcome of a billion-dollar project, and it would appear GM has already earned what it says it is now reaping.

The most recent affirmation to this came May 2 from a Chevrolet press release saying that the Volt demo program is drawing new customers to Chevrolet dealers.

These are people who might never have darkened the door of a Chevy dealer, the company said, and now they are walking right in.

The Volt’s slow roll-out of is credited with some rather remarkable ancillary benefits.

“Almost nine of 10 customers who traded in a vehicle as part of their purchase are new to the Chevrolet brand,” said Chevrolet, “That’s why hundreds of Volts that could be sold to individuals are tagged for dealers as demo vehicles, meant for customer exposure to the Volt and to other Chevy products they might otherwise not see.”

Evocative images are part of the plan as well – and this is one photogenic car that emits next to no pollution to obscure the light-blue sky under which it serenely sits.

In the first quarter of this year, 1,210 new Volts were sold. Beyond this, more than 550 dedicated Volt demos have gone to dealers in the initial launch markets of California, Connecticut, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Texas, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

By year’s end, more than 2,500 U.S. dealers will receive a dedicated Volt demo as Chevrolet rolls out the car to the remaining states.

In short, Chevrolet said it is reviving its sales and reputation with no small thanks to the Volt by creating and meeting great expectations – and that’s a hint for Rob Peterson’s topic number four, which we’ll save for another day.