General Motors (s gm) CEO Fritz Henderson promised earlier this week that the new GM, fresh out of bankruptcy, will have more direct communications with customers, dealers, suppliers and employees. The lingering consumer perception “that GM makes lower-quality cars,” according to the White House auto task force, combined with the very fresh perception that the automaker might not be around to make good on warranties, has created an image that’s in need of a serious makeover. And today we’re seeing one of the first efforts: The company has just launched a social network called Chevrolet VoltAge, which is meant to foster “conversation and dialogue about the Chevy Volt and electric vehicles.”
GM isn’t exactly leading the charge here — startup Tesla Motors has built up an active community in its online forums for electric car fans and Roadster owners. Toyota (s tm), meanwhile, is pitching the third-generation Prius on existing social networks, including Facebook and Twitter, and pushing consumer-generated content (submitted via Facebook and Twitter) on gas station TVs. And while it’s better to open up communication late in the game than never, GM has a ways to go if it wants to build a community like the ones that have formed around the Prius and Tesla. The site hasn’t been up and running long enough to give us a sense of the interaction that will take place there, but at this point, it’s heavy on slick promos, and light on real transparency and engaging discussion.
Here’s how GM is trying to set the tone of the conversation on VoltAge: The company has posted several videos about Volt — including one about the making of pre-production models (above) and another with recently unretired Volt frontman Bob Lutz talking about the car’s aerodynamic design elements (below) — and also scheduled an online chat about the Volt’s development with Global Program Management VP Jon Lauckner for next Wednesday afternoon. Senior Staff Engineer Greg Cesiel has started a thread about the Volt battery, but he hasn’t answered those questions in nearly a week. The site will likely get a lot more interesting once Volts get on the road and drivers can start sharing their experiences with the vehicle. In the meantime, if you check out Voltage, come on back and let us know what you think.