now that general motors is getting closer to launching an onslaught of electric vehicles, one of its super bowl ads is prepping the american public to buy them. this year, gm trades in inflated torque numbers for will ferrell, using the step brothers actor in a 90-second ad to challenge americans to step up and dethrone norway from its position as the leader in ev adoption.
driving a cadillac lyriq, ferrell recruits saturday night live actor kenan thompson and comedian awkwafina to go on what becomes an ill-executed journey to norway. during the trip, viewers also get a look at the gmc hummer ev (pictured above) and learn about gm's battery platform. "gm's ultium battery is made for all types of vehicles, so soon everyone can drive an ev," ferrell says, a talking point that gm has been busy promoting.
it's no secret that the united states lags behind norway—among many other countries—in per-capita ev purchases. last year, 54 percent of new vehicles sold in norway were all electric, compared to the estimated 3 percent in the u.s. nonetheless, the cause of the disparity is deeper than americans not feeling they need to beat norway: gm itself is part of the reason why there aren’t more electric vehicles on the road today. rather than lobby for increased incentives for ev purchases—norway's method—general motors has spent decades lobbying for weaker emissions regulations.
norway pushed ev adoption through increased incentives from the government, and the european union has focused on regulations, which have become even stricter in recent years. "electric-car sales are booming thanks to eu emissions standards," julia poliscanova, senior director for clean vehicles at the european federation for transport and environment, said in a report released last fall.
meanwhile, as recently as three months ago, gm was among a group of automakers suing the state of california for maintaining its stricter emissions regulations. that was after the trump administration had eased the federal rules, a move that gm also supported. it wasn’t until three weeks after joe biden's election that gm reversed its decision to back the trump administration, siding with companies including ford and volkswagen that had stood with california from the beginning.
gm has revealed in financial filings that it depends on less stringent emission rules. "any shift in consumer preferences toward smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles . . . could weaken the demand for our higher-margin vehicles," the automaker wrote in its 10-k filing for 2018 (it's worth noting that ford expressed that same sentiment in its own filing).
and an investigation by energy and environment publication e&e found that gm has been lobbying in this direction for decades. the report says gm and ford were told by their own scientists in the 1960s that vehicle emissions were impacting the climate. yet, in addition to lobbying for weaker emissions rules, the automaker worked to undermine climate science and sow doubt about the causes of climate change, a tactic that the oil industry has become notorious for executing. it's not hard to reach the conclusion that gm encouraged that doubt to help reduce the need, at least in the public's eye, for stricter emissions regulations.
gm is starting to push a different message, as the super bowl advertising points out. gm has started actively responding to a changing climate, including announcing in january that it hopes to be carbon neutral by 2040. also in that announcement, gm said that it aims to end the sale of its gasoline- and diesel-powered cars, suvs, and light trucks by 2035, replacing them with electric-powered alternatives. the automaker plans to have 30 new electric vehicles on sale by 2025.
that movement starts with a couple of high-profile electric debuts. the first-edition gmc hummer ev is set to be available late this year, and the cadillac lyriq is slated to go on sale in the middle of 2022. but when those evs do reach dealers, cadillac and gmc will face challenges on multiple fronts to sell them. not only will they have to overcome public sentiment, they will also have to overcome their association with general motors and its history.