Cyclists in the United States and beyond have hit out at car maker General Motors for an advertisement appearing in college newspapers that touts cars as the way to get around and bicycles as being for, well, losers.
Under the strapline, ‘Reality Sucks,’ the advert depicts a young woman in a car, smiling – or perhaps sneering, you decide – at a huffing, puffing, cyclist pulled up alongside her, with the text underneath saying, ‘Stop pedaling… start driving.”
The ad promotes GM’s College Discount, enabling students to buy qualifying Chevrolet, Buick or GMC cars at a discount – a tempting offer indeed for anyone who has taken on tens of thousands of dollars of debt in the hope of getting a foot on the career ladder once they graduate. The GM College Discount program also uses social media to get its message accross although such has been the level of negative response that the GM College Discount Facebook page now looks more like a spoof.
It’s unclear from the advert whether the travellers are stopped at the traffic lights – unlikely, we imagine, since received wisdom among the motoring fraternity appears to be that cyclists never stop at them – or in a traffic jam, which when you think about it, would be a funny way to sell a car. Creatives, eh?
Failure to respond to the threat of ever-increasing gasoline prices brought the Detroit-based auto makers to their knees during the 1970s, and it as only by following the Japanese model of smaller, more fuel-efficient cars that they were able to survive.
With oil prices again at record highs, money tight, and graduate job prospects not looking too rosy on either side of the Atlantic, we’re not sure it’s in the interests of car manufacturers to be too smug in targeting this demographic.
It’s the kind of ad you’d never imagine finding in a student newspaper in the UK, and with many cities in the US do have a thriving bicycle subculture, as the League of American Bicyclists points out, “obviously it’s been a while since GM execs and their creative teams set foot on campus.”
They go on to add that colleges are unlikely to welcome the $30,000-a-time price tag of creating new car parking spaces, let alone explaining how that fits in with their carbon reduction plans come the end of the year.
Having said that, this is a country where people start driving younger, and may therefore be more attached to their cars when starting college than their peers in the UK.
With many college campuses based around tight-knit, sometimes claustrophobic communities, you might want your own wheels to be able to get away to the nearest big city whenever you want.
But, as the League of American Bicyclists adds, not only is the ad promising you the freedom of the highway, it’s also promising to saddle you with more debt on top of the existing loans that American students take out to fund their studies. In fact, it’s provided some alternative text for the advert:
“If you are a student looking to add tens of thousands of dollars of long term debt, care little about the environment, and want to lump two tons of steel around campus while paying through the nose for insurance, gas, and parking…General Motors has got a perfect deal for you. Bonus: it’ll make you fat and unhealthy! All you have to do is give up that dorky bicycle that’s easy to use, practically free, gets you some exercise and is actually fun to ride.”
Having said that, we’re wondering whether the smile the young lady is directing at the cyclist might be based on something more than just pity for a fellow stundent who has to resort to using a bicycle to get around.
After all, those hours in the saddle are going to leave him fit, toned and tanned and with money to spare, rather than spending his travelling time sitting in a car watching the fuel gauge tick down, along with the balance in his bank account.
Or perhaps she just likes a man who can work up a good sweat?
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.