When I saw the Edmunds.com press release on Earth Day, I slumped in disappointment — disappointment at what seemed to be some very deceitful (intentionally or unintentionally) news. My reputation has been built a bit on articles addressing poor work from the mass media regarding cleantech topics, but I actually don’t enjoy that work. I’d rather deal with useful, good news or original analysis than spend my time addressing the mistakes of others. So, I decided to let this one slide and just hope that not too many people were misinformed by it….
But then I was advising someone on an EV-related startup and he brought the news up — he saw it in USA TODAY. Then, the next day, John Voelcker of Green Car Reports did a great job criticizing in a constructive way the press release and subsequent articles about it. Late last night, I decided that I needed to help address the problems in the Edmunds press release as well.
The last time I covered anything related to Edmunds, it was the outlet’s surprisingly consistent criticism of its Tesla Model S, a car widely loved by members of the auto press, Consumer Reports, and its owners. Some Edmunds folks came over and defended themselves, and I also got somewhat of a lawsuit threat for the screenshots I took of their website. Did Edmunds have an agenda in its negative coverage of what is widely considered the best mass-manufactured car on the planet? I don’t know, but the story was certainly an oddity.
Remember also that Edmunds doesn’t make its money like most news sites. It makes its money by funneling car buyers to dealers. I think we all know the relationship between conventional auto dealers and electric cars all too well by now, so I won’t go into that.
Now, I’m not saying that Edmunds is inherently malicious toward electric cars, but it is certainly no EV Obsession.
The “News” Regarding Electric Car Trade-Ins
The biggest issue with the Edmunds news is that it conflates electric cars and conventional hybrids under a generic “green cars” moniker. Furthermore, it does so in a way that could easily be misread. Here are the first two paragraphs of the press release:
Car buyers are trading in hybrid and electric cars for SUVs at a higher rate than ever before, according to a new analysis from car-buying platform Edmunds.com. The analysis offers a surprising look at how today’s gas prices are drawing hybrid and EV owners toward gas-guzzling vehicles at a much more accelerated pace than in recent years.
According to Edmunds.com, about 22 percent of people who have traded in their hybrids and EVs in 2015 bought a new SUV. The number represents a sharp increase from 18.8 percent last year, and it is nearly double the rate of 11.9 percent just three years ago. Overall, only 45 percent of this year’s hybrid and EV trade-ins have gone toward the purchase of another alternative fuel vehicle, down from just over 60 percent in 2012. Never before have loyalty rates for alt-fuel vehicles fallen below 50 percent.
Catch what’s going on there? The percentages noted above are for hybrids and EVs combined. They don’t say that EVs (by themselves) are being traded in for SUVs.
There are a few issues with this:
1. Plug-in cars and conventional hybrids are very different beasts. For all practical purposes, a conventional hybrid like the Toyota Prius is a gasmobile with better fuel economy than most. These cars don’t offer the awesome instant torque of electric cars, they don’t offer the convenience of charging at home, and they don’t offer the option to “drive on sunshine.” I have zero interest in conventional hybrids, while I love electric cars — and that’s a very common sentiment among electric car fans and buyers.
So, to put it simply, these are very different categories and shouldn’t be combined. It’s akin to conflating chocolate sales with broccoli sales.
2. At this stage of the game, there are a lot more conventional hybrids sold each month. The results presented by Edmunds wouldn’t have been that different even if every electric car trade-in was for another electric car. For another food analogy, if you combine apple sales with rambutan sales, the combined sales result you get is really not going to tell you anything about rambutan sales.
3. The many mainstream buyers of conventional hybrids are probably buying their cars to save some money, with a bit of a green happiness behind the decision. They’re certainly not buying them for the performance benefits, as electric car buyers often are, or for the convenience of charging at home. So, the drop in oil/gas prices surely put a dent in conventional hybrid sales. However, oil/gas prices have been found to have absolutely no correlation to plug-in car sales. As John wrote, “an analysis by Plug In America of four years of sales data (from December 2010 through November 2014) show absolutely no correlation–zip, nada–between gas prices and the sales of electric cars.”
So, one would expect conventional hybrid sales to fall with the drop in gas prices, but there’s no evidence or strong reasoning to believe that plug-in cars would take a similar hit.
4. I have to wonder how well Edmunds is collecting data on Tesla trade-ins. If it is using information provided by car dealerships, it obviously isn’t catching the Tesla owners who are upgrading, or the Nissan LEAF owners who are upgrading to a Tesla, or the Chevy Volt owners who are upgrading to a Tesla, etc. Many EV owners have started with cheaper EVs and moved up to a Tesla Model S. I’d be surprised if Edmunds is capturing that.
Whether it was intentional or not, the Edmunds press release was very deceitful, and media outlets that didn’t catch the nuance have even more deceitfully reported that electric car owners are trading in for SUVs. John’s request is for Edmunds to break out the data and release the numbers for the different segments, not combined.
I’d just like to see Edmunds get its act together and stop fighting societal improvement. Note, again, that it released these data on Earth Day, with the title, “Hybrid and Electric Vehicles Struggle to Maintain Owner Loyalty, Reports Edmunds.com.” Its Twitter crew followed up with: “What #EarthDay? People are trading in their hybrids/EVs for an SUV in record numbers”.)
While even some of the most environmentally damaging companies on the planet were trying to be (or at least act) a bit greener on Earth Day, Edmunds was making fun of it. That would be enough to make me unsubscribe from the site and leave it to die a slow death… but I’ve never subscribed in the first place.
Anyhow, loyal readers of CleanTechnica, if you want to help address the muck, share this piece.
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