Why GM’s Super Bowl Ad for Electric Cars Is So Important


3. The point of the ad isn’t Norway. Norway is the MacGuffin, the foil for Will Ferrell’s hapless masculinity. The point of the ad is that America has lagged behind other rich countries in adopting an important piece of consumer technology, which is (1) correct and (2) partially GM’s fault.

Like, it is GM’s fault recently. Ferrell was an inspired choice, because there’s a certain type of Will Ferrell character—the flabby guy, misled by his vanities, who eventually winds up in the right place partly because of others’ love—that mirrors GM’s past few years. Because GM has had a change of heart on EVs, and it has had it since October.

4. Which is why it’s noteworthy that GM is running this ad—because GM has lately lagged behind its crosstown rival, Ford. In 2017, Mary Barra, GM’s CEO, sat next to Donald Trump when he announced a rollback of climate-pollution rules. Ford’s executive chairman, Bill Ford, opposed that rollback the next year. When the Trump administration sought to strip California of its power to regulate vehicle pollution, GM joined in the lawsuit. Ford and four foreign automakers took California’s side.

GM, in fact, continued to argue that California did not have the power to regulate vehicle pollution until November 23. Then it abruptly announced that, after thinking about it—and, perhaps, after reviewing the election results—the company had decided that California did have that power all along. A pre-Thanksgiving miracle!

This final misery capped four years of defeats. The American public has never seemed to absorb how completely the car industry—and how much GM, specifically—fumbled under Trump.

In 2016, the industry celebrated Trump’s win: Finally, here was a pro-business president that it could really work with! What it got instead was a parade of expensive inconveniences. The Obama administration had, for instance, put in rules meant to decrease the carbon pollution that cars emit from their tailpipes; automakers wanted those rules weakened; the Trump administration froze them entirely—a drastic change that had more costs than benefits. Trump harangued GM on Twitter without warning, and threatened to impose new tariffs on its supply chains. And the White House declined last year to extend the federal tax credit for EVs, a move that harmed Tesla and GM specifically while helping foreign automakers.

Federal support for these kinds of policies matters. EVs command 54 percent of the market share in Norway not because Norwegians love Tesla, but because Norway has thrown a small fjord’s worth of incentives and mandates behind them. It is safe to say that, had Trump won 81,000 more votes across four states, we would not be talking about this ad at all.

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