These are among the many challenges marketers face at a time of sweeping change in the auto industry. Rapid advances in electrification and safety, along with the endless hum of the industry's hype machines, place new burdens on marketing staffs to avoid misunderstandings that could confuse or even endanger consumers, many of whom haven't been in the new-vehicle market for a decade or more.
Increasingly, they must be teachers and myth busters in addition to promoters, helping consumers — and dealers — sort through the distinctions among hybrids, plug-in hybrids and battery-electric and fuel cell cars, for example, or between lane-keep warning and lane-keep assist.
The task often pits the interests of clarity against the marketing impulses of companies to brand and trademark their technologies with buzzwords such as "smart" and "intelligent."
AAA, the not-for-profit group and travel agency for motorists, notes that there are 20 names for adaptive cruise control systems, for example, and 19 for lane-keeping technologies.
The group is pushing for adoption of a naming scheme that would bring consistency and clarity to the terminology of advanced driver assistance systems. For example, it wants to use "dynamic driving assistance" for the partial-automation systems controlling "vehicle acceleration, braking and steering" and the straightforward "lane-keeping assistance" for the technology known as active steering assist, intelligent lane intervention and active steering assist.
"Our goal right now is to try to get the industry to move toward common naming," said Michael Calkins, a technical services manager for AAA. "That has to happen simultaneously with education," with dealers doing their part.
AAA also found that 40 percent of Americans expect semi-autonomous systems such as Tesla's Autopilot "to have the ability to drive the car by itself, indicating a gap in consumer understanding of these technologies and reality."
How hard is it to change basic perceptions among consumers and get the stories straight? Toyota and Ford are finding out as they rewrite their electrification narratives around power and performance rather than fuel economy. And Porsche will, too, as it tries to get its loyal buyers to accept that a vehicle can be electric, a sports car and a Porsche at the same time.
These exciting times for engineers will be pretty busy for marketers.