tampabay.com

It was all green at the Tampa auto show

"Flex-fuel," "Hydrogen-based," "E85," "Recharge," "Two-mode," "Fuel-friendly," and, of course,"Green."

By Scott Long, Times Staff Writer
Published November 12, 2007


That's just a small snippet of phrases heard in interviews with car reps at the just-concluded Tampa Bay International Auto Show.

Surprised? I doubt it. That $9 ticket that got you into the show was a blue light special compared to the north-of-$3 gas it cost you to motor over to the Tampa Convention Center. Carmakers - especially domestic ones - know that, and were positively giddy to show the masses their hybrids and other "alternative" models that'll glimmer in showrooms this fall and in the years ahead.

But what did surprise me was how pervasive "green" was throughout the convention hall.

Walk around the new Mercury Mariner. Did you miss the word "hybrid" emblazoned on the car? If so, your eye certainly didn't miss the green leaf badge.

"It stands out more instead of just the word 'hybrid,'" says Meghan Fitzgerald of Ford Motor Co., adding that the green not only symbolizes the green movement, but it connects with a customer's mind.

The folks at Chevrolet don't want to take any chance that your mind might miss its green statement. The "h" in "hybrid" on the new Malibu is bold. It's capitalized. And it's very green.

"Individuals who are environmentally conscious, they like other people to know that they are environmentally conscious," says Michael Howell of GM. "They're making a statement: 'Hey, this is what I have, and I'm doing my part to support the world environment.'"

It's effective branding, says Erika Matulich, a University of Tampa marketing professor.

"People recognize brands in different ways. By colors, by fonts and by names," she says. "So if you can say 'hybrid' and also turn it green, then you're hitting on every level of consciousness a consumer uses."

But the color green lurked covertly at the auto show, too. Consider these more coy uses:

-The green-colored North America in a sign touting the Saturn Aura as "North American Car of the Year."

-A green bicycle on the roof rack of a Subaru Forester.

-A green floral arrangement on the Lexus information desk.

-A forest of green trees pictured on large drapery in the Toyota truck section. Yes, the truck section.

And if it you didn't put two and two together, one might be tempted to think the fact that the highway-esque green signs announcing each carmaker were one huge subliminal message to buy green.

Coincidence?

"Green advertising has been on the rise for 10 years," Matulich says. "A small niche of marketers has been using it, and now it's hit more mainstream."

Ad pros are smart folks. They know if you spend four hours roaming rows and rows of new cars, you can't help but leave dreaming about what you'd love to tool around town in. And those dreams will be tinted green.

I plugged the word "green" into one of the "dream analyzers" on the Web. Dreaming "green" suggests "projects that you are enthusiastic about. Great pleasures from simple things."

There's nothing simple about buying a car, no matter how enthusiastic you are. But for many drivers, it would be a great pleasure to own a vehicle that's part of our fuel-efficient future.

We all should be green with envy about that.

Scott Long can be reached at long@sptimes.com or 727 893-8556.


Auto show hybrids

Missed the auto show? Plenty of cars with "fuel-friendly" attributes were on display. Here are some of the new models with the "h" word on their badges:

- Cadillac Escalade

- Chevrolet Tahoe

- Chevrolet Malibu

- Ford Escape

- Ford Fusion

- GMC Yukon

- Honda Civic

- Lexus GS

- Lexus LS

- Lexus RX

- Mazda Tribute

- Mercury Mariner

- Nissan Altima

- Saturn Aura

- Saturn Vue

- Toyota Camry

- Toyota Highlander

- Toyota Prius