From James Dean’s Mercury coupe in Rebel Without a Cause to Burt Reynolds’s Trans Am in Smokey and the Bandit to Jason Statham’s McLaren in the new Fast and Furious film, cars have been stars in many a Hollywood classic. However, as a recent Bloomberg article points out, electric cars are still waiting for their big-screen breakthrough.
Above: A Tesla Model 3 parks directly in front of some 'Hollywood' graffiti art (Instagram: @blizzrd_the_tesla)
Of course, Tesla has had its brushes with movie stardom. The Roadster was briefly seen on screen in the first Iron Man film, and Elon Musk made a cameo appearance in the second (other onscreen Elon sightings include an episode of The Big Bang Theory and the 2016 film Why Him?).
Superheroes have always been early adopters. A Model X was featured in an episode of The Flash, and Iron Man drove an Audi e-tron in Avengers: Endgame. Model X was also driven by one of the evil founders of dystopian Gilead in Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale.
However, when ordinary folks drive EVs on the big screen or the small, they’re usually figures of fun. In Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David’s Prius was presented as yet another symbol of his grandfatherly unhipness. In the series Grace and Frankie, Lily Tomlin’s character, a kale-eating superannuated hippie chick, drives a LEAF. On the other hand, Emma Stone was driving a Prius in La La Land. The punchline: everyone else in Los Angeles was driving one too.
Above: California is the most popular state for EVs (Chart: Bloomberg)
Why don’t we see more cool EVs in movies? The short answer: for the same reason we don’t see much advertising for EVs. These days, a particular car doesn’t appear in a movie or a hit TV show just because the director wants it there. “Product placements” are basically ads, which the automakers pay for. Tesla doesn’t pay for advertising (nor does it need to), and the other brands that have EVs aren’t keen to advertise them, for reasons that we’ve already written about at length.
As Kyle LaHucik explains in the Bloomberg piece, the cars automakers want to be seen in movies are their halo sports cars and their money-spinning pickup trucks. Camaros were flying off the lots the summer they were featured in the Transformers movie franchise (ironically, GM was in bankruptcy proceedings at the time). “More recently, the company reached out to a diverse audience by placing its GMC Sierra pickup in the revamp of the hit show Queer Eye,” LaHucik writes.
In order to comply with emissions regulations, most of the legacy automakers are (more or less grudgingly) producing EVs, but by most accounts, none are yet making any real profit on them. “The business 101 would be that you’re making a ton of money on your large pickup trucks and your large SUVs, so the dollar you put into marketing on those pays back more than the dollar you put into the EVs that you’re losing money on,” Mark Wakefield, a consultant with AlixPartners, told Bloomberg.
Above: Arnold Schwarzenegger does a tongue-in-cheek skit promoting gas-powered cars instead of EVs (Youtube: Arnold Schwarzenegger)
However, there’s one Hollywood superstar who’s a fan of EVs, and is doing his best to get them some onscreen respect. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently made a hilarious series of video shorts for the EV advocacy group Veloz, which is running an ad campaign called Kicking Gas. As the stereotypical car salesman Howard Kleiner, Noldi tries to talk potential buyers out of buying electric models (just the way real car salesmen do, only funnier), while a hidden camera captures their reactions. “On behalf of big oil, I want to thank you all for choosing muscle cars that use gasoline,” says Kleiner, sporting a Hawaiian shirt and a porno-movie mustache. “Long live American muscles!”