Ford just invested $500M in Rivian, a startup making electric pickup trucks and SUVs. Rivian expects to sell 20,000 trucks in 2021. EV enthusiasts should be encouraged, right? But something is missing from this good news.
The thing that is missing is sound. The US automotive industry spends $5B a year getting us to believe in a better future image of ourselves if we drive their cars and pickups. You’ve seen the advertising. A big truck, tires spinning through mud and pulling a heavy load while a basso profundo announcer simply says “Chevy” or “Ram Tough.” On the street, these 600 HP beauties have fine tuned mufflers that remind us of their power. You can often hear them coming.
It is this sound and what it represents that will be missing from the electric pickup. Let me try to make that sound. ZZZeeeeeeeee. Wwhhirrrrrrr. Nada, nothing, zilch. But it is not the sound that is important.
Advertisers have known for decades that we don’t buy products for their features or even what they do, but we buy because of how it makes us feel about ourselves. Why else would people wait in line for a Tesla Model 3? Having the new Tesla says you are cool and hip. Tesla doesn’t advertise, they attract. Yet an electric pickup is a version of persuasion. It will get 400 miles on a charge. So what? Today’s pickup truck advertisers use attraction. Buy this internal combustion truck and this is who you will be. Having a big pickup truck, even if you only use it for a commute to work, says something about who you are. You are a man. You are dominant. You rule the earth. You are rugged. You are powerful. This is your identity.
Identity rules our culture. It ranks just below physiological needs and safety on Maslow’s hierarchy. Never mind that our current image of what it takes to be a man is rooted in immature adolescent fantasies. While they may change, this is what Ford’s investment has in common with the environmental and climate movements. A lack of identity that attracts.
Climate crusaders and environmentalists are trying to persuade us that we are in trouble. We are in very deep trouble. But what they fail to create is an image of who we can be by acting on the climate crisis. Where are our environmental heroes? Why are we still talking about facts and fear in the same way we talk about mileage? Why can’t I see a better image of myself instead of just shame if I don’t act? Can I be cool if I drive a Rivian?
Ford will have to overcome an existing identity and create a new identity for the EV pickup. It will have to put hundreds of millions into advertising the Rivian in order to create a positive identity that attracts buyers for the vehicle or it will remain a silent backwater in the automotive industry. Electric mileage is not enough. Zzzzzzeeeee. If you doubt this, just look at the Toyota Prius. Its chief feature is high mileage, but it isn’t really advertised and its identity says suburban liberal mom. Go moms. But electric mileage and benefit for the climate are not enough to attract.
Those concerned with the climate will also have to create an identity that attracts people rather than persuades people. It will require creating a different image of masculinity. Ironically one that provides an alternative to the identity of rugged pickup truck owners. One that encompasses compassion, gratitude, empathy, maturity and living in harmony with the earth. The sooner we start, the better off we’ll all be.
‘We are all connected. Savor the Earth!’™
L. Hobart Stocking