When the 2014 Cadillac ELR—the carmaker's new electric luxury vehicle—rolled onstage at the Detroit auto show earlier this year, Juan Camargo (MBA 2012) sat in the fourth row, beaming. And it wasn't just because, as assistant marketing manager at Cadillac, Camargo is responsible for positioning the car—which is due in showrooms next month—for the American market. (Though that was nice, too.) The moment also represented a high point in a love affair with cars that began with childhood kart racing and included a few HBS-to-Montreal road trips for big Formula One events. "The whole thing was pretty surreal," says Camargo. But the day after the show, the reality of the challenge ahead of him remained: How, exactly, do you sell America a high-end electric car?
- DITCH THE OLD PITCH
The first wave of electric vehicles had a dual environmental and economic hook: save the environment, save gas money. That won't work for the ELR. "The consumer we're targeting is not that price conscious," notes Camargo, adding that it's more of an emotional purchase. "When they drive a vehicle, they want it to be a statement about themselves—something that reflects their personality, in both tech and aesthetics."
- TARGET THE TASTEMAKERS
To reach the cool kids, Camargo and Cadillac partnered with IvyConnect, a members-only social network founded by Philipp Triebel and Beri Meric (both MBA 2010). "Using the power of social influence will be key for us," says Camargo. "The younger audience doesn't have a notion of what an electric car should be, and they are open to new technologies." And even if the youth market isn't ready for high-end wheels, changing the perception of the Cadillac brand among that crowd, he notes, can pay dividends when they eventually graduate to the luxe level.
- FASHION WITH FUNCTION
"People want to do the right thing, but they want to do it in style," says Camargo, who describes the ELR as a mix of "art and science." The early mass-market alternative fuel cars, he adds, used abstract designs to reinforce the innovative ideas at work under the hood. "For the mainstream, that becomes a little bit trickier. You have to blend what people look for in a car design and still, underneath, offer the benefits of new technology."