Leaf commercial has viewers buzzing, especially at GM

Nissan's TV spot will begin airing on June 10.
Rick Kranz is product editor for Automotive News.

What would the world be like "if everything ran on gas?"

"Then, again, what would it be like if everything didn't?"

That's the brief dialogue of a 60-second Nissan Leaf commercial that takes aim at the Chevrolet Volt. General Motors says the spot is misleading.

The video can be viewed at YouTube.com (or see below). The spot has attracted about 600,000 viewers on YouTube since it was posted May 27.

Nissan's commercial makes it clear that the Leaf is a pure electric, battery-powered vehicle, while the Volt requires battery power plus a gasoline engine, an engine that releases emissions.

Through May, Nissan has sold 2,167 Leafs, and Chevrolet has sold 2,184 Volts.

The Leaf video pictures a couple's everyday life, complete with cell phone, hair dryer, microwave oven, computer and other electronic devices. But each device is powered by a gasoline engine with exhaust flowing from a tailpipe.

The message is obvious: The Volt emits exhaust into the air. The Leaf emits nothing.

At the end of the video, a Volt owner is seen with a remorseful expression on his face, pumping gasoline into his car. He stares across the street as a Leaf owner quickly removes an electric plug that is attached to a charging station.

"If you look at that ad, its main purpose is to make people think about what our lives would be like if everything ran on gas," said Dave Reuter, vice president of corporate communications for Nissan North America. "It wasn't specifically calling out the competition in terms of the intent of the ad."

Reuter said the spot is one in a series the automaker has been running for the past seven months. The commercials "are moving forward on the concept of zero emission driving," he said in a telephone interview.

The spot will begin running on TV June 10.

Meanwhile, GM says the commercial is harmful.

"It is an entertaining commercial, but it is misleading and damaging to the EV movement," said GM spokesman Rob Peterson.

"Many people are intrigued by pure electric cars but not many people are willing or have the means to own a limited use vehicle," Peterson said in an e-mail.

Additionally, he said "the commercial fails to point out that a gas-powered tow truck or rental car come to the rescue of a Leaf driver who uses all of the battery power and is unable to get a recharge."

The Volt owner can continue driving when the gasoline engine kicks in, Peterson noted.

Nissan's Leaf commercial has created a buzz -- exactly what it wants, I suspect.

But will it sway buyers debating between a Leaf and a Volt?

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