Welcome to the battle of electric-car snark. First, Cadillac started running ads for its new luxury ELR, a sleek $75,000 coupe based on its popular “range extended” Volt (a small gas engine kicks in when the battery is depleted -- after about 37 miles -- extending a driver’s range to the fuel tank’s capacity of 380 miles or anywhere on the continent there’s a gas station). The ad, called “Poolside,” is notable because Cadillac doesn’t aim its pitch at greenies (read: Toyota Prius or Nissan Leaf drivers) or even at high-tech early adopters (say, Tesla Model S drivers), but at self-made high earners looking to make a statement about themselves. You know, Cadillac drivers. (In fact, the ad never mentions the word “electric,” though we do see the ELR’s owner plugging in his vehicle outside his garage.)
But the chorus of “yuck, what a d-bag!” reactions to the ad has gotten even more attention. Cadillac’s self-made high-earner is presented as someone who represents the best of American pluck. After all, America is home to Bill Gates, Ali, Les Paul, and the Wright Brothers. Americans are the only ones who’ve gone to the moon, and the only ones going back. “We’re crazy, driven hard-working believers,” precision-haircut ELR-guy tells us. He’s got the infinity pool, the stark modernist house, the $75,000 car. At the same time, he sneers at Europeans for taking month-long summer vacations and for stopping into cafes rather than, like him, working ever harder, ostensibly for the benefit of his wife and kids -- who, notably, never make eye contact with him. But instead what’s most important is good old American exceptionalism: “You work hard. You create your own luck. And you gotta believe anything is possible.”
Ford saw an opportunity and ran with it, chuckling the entire way. Its counter-ad, “Upside: Anything is Possible” follows real-life urban-farmer Pashon Murray, who sports a Carhartt work jacket and one of the coolest Afros since Pam Grier, as she explains why she works hard…and drives Ford’s $33,000 gas/electric C-MAX Hybrid Energi. “We’re crazy entrepreneurs trying to make the world better,” Murray says as we tour Detroit Dirt’s operations, collecting “food scraps from restaurants, manure from zoos” to keep it out of landfills and make “good, rich dirt.” Murray’s version of American exceptionalism? “You work hard. You believe that anything is possible. And you try to make the world better. You try.” Her prize isn’t “stuff” but helping the city produce locally-grown vegetables. “That’s the upside of giving a damn,” she concludes.
Perhaps it time for Nissan, Tesla, and other electric car makers to jump in the fray and keep the parodies going. As Oscar Wilde put it, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” You can watch the ads below.
Image of Cadillac ELR from ELR commercial "Poolside." YouTube videos from Cadillac and ad-agency Team Detroit.
Reed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term. For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”