Weekly Brief: Super Bowl Sees Carmakers Push EV and AV

The Super Bowl is the biggest night in American sports.

It’s also a barometer for what brands really care about, what they want to project as their future and what parts of their products are most culturally relevant. It was, therefore, telling that of the seven automakers to advertise during the Super Bowl, each paying a rate of $5.6M for a 30 second slot, four of them heavily featured self-driving technology or electrification.

The Hyundai Sonata kicked off with an advert for its new Remote Smart Parking Assist feature. The action takes place on a packed street in Boston that has no free parking spots, or so we think, until a driver pulls up and whips out his remote parking feature, which expertly squeezes the car into a tight parking spot. It’s a funny clip, mostly because the actors, who include Saturday Night Live’s Rachel Dratch and Boston Red Sox legend David Ortiz, are using heavy Boston accents to say “Smaht Pahk” over and over again. It also shows how on-trend advanced driver assistance systems have become. The world may not be ready for full self-driving but adverts like this show that culturally we’re getting close.

Next came Audi’s advert for the e-tron, which lands us in a sleek EV stuck on a traffic-choked, over-heated street full of gas-guzzling automobiles. Queue Idina Menzel singing Frozen’s “Let It Go” and our EV suddenly breaks out of the gridlock, waving goodbye to the gas stations, the muscle cars, the oil execs driving in stretch limos, until our e-tron is alone on the open road. “Let’s drive toward a more sustainable future,” says Audi. The song choice was annoying but the storyline resonated. (Although how BEVs manage to avoid urban traffic congestion is not explained – Ed.)

General Motors addressed the same theme from a different angle, specifically that of a thousand wild horses thundering across the high plains, the Colorado Rockies soaring in the background. “1,000 horsepower will sound like this,” the advert said as the sound went silent. LeBron James then appeared on a basketball court. “Pure dominance will sound like this,” went the script as James threw down a mighty dunk that smashed the backboard to pieces but produced no sound. The iconic grille of a Hummer emerged from the darkness. “A quiet revolution is coming. All-electric. Zero emissions. Zero limits,” said Lebron James.

A line like that, delivered by a star like James and applied to the poster child of big, bulky cars with notoriously bad fuel economy, shows what a transformative moment in time this is for the car industry. For more on the world debut of the GMC Hummer EV, read our coverage here.

All this brings us to the final car advert of the night, which aired shortly before the Kansas City Chiefs exerted their will over the San Francisco Forty-Niners and broke the heart of every life-long Niners fan (myself included). It featured another iconic muscle car, the Ford Mustang, cruising down the highway. Only gradually do we realize that this Mustang has been completely reimagined for the 21st century as the all-electric Ford Mustang Mach-E. It was a fitting conclusion to the night. Football may still be football. The Super Bowl may still be the Super Bowl but the car world is a-changin’.

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