Cars

Published on April 24th, 2015 | by Zachary Shahan

27

Is Edmunds Being Careless Or Nasty?

April 24th, 2015 by  

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.

Edmunds, Edmunds…

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.”

u-s-gasoline-price-vs-sales-of-plug-in-vehicles-dec-2010-nov-2014-source-plug-in-america_100498628_l

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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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the typed word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession, Solar Love, and Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in.



  • omar

    You picked it up with high intelligence… i think they know what you are saying is right but they was relying on that no one will picked it up… thanks Shahan

  • dogphlap dogphlap

    Dear Mr. Zachary Shahan,
    what an interesting piece. I went to Edmunds.com (a couple of days ago) looking for the article but I could not find it (I found it later from a link in Green Car Reports). I was struck by the way the site appears to be no more than a gateway to car dealers. In my naivety I had assumed it was like Consumer Reports, turns out it’s not.
    As to BEV versus PHEV, like you I favour the latter but for irrational reasons. The thought of having to buy through a dealer, carrying around all that extra machinery with the consequential loss of usable space and the weight penalty plus extra complications in servicing all for the less than 10% of non-electric miles I’d drive puts me off even the outstanding GM Volt so I’m going Tesla (no other EV has sufficient range) despite the Model S being too big, too expensive and much more powerful than I really want. When the Model 3 comes out I may trade down to that if I’m not too old to get my driver’s licence renewed by then. In short the Volt makes sense but buying a car is more than just a rational decision.

  • sjc_1

    My used LEAF price post was removed.

  • Robert Pollock

    I’ve been driving a Spark EV for a year and a half. At age 63, I’ve owned a handful of cars and trucks and I can say without any reservation, EV’s are like color tv. (I remember when they were new, people didn’t see the value) Once you’ve driven electric, you wonder why anyone would drive anything else. There are a few subtle effects that only owner/drivers know; Once a regular charging routine is layered into your daily schedule, (like plugging in at night while sleeping and always waking to a full charge, or having even a level I charger at work) any “range anxiety” disappears.

    If I want to run to the store at 10:pm for a gallon of milk, I do so without even thinking about wasting fuel, the car wastes about 8% of energy in, using the motor to decelerate most of the time. That’s why the brake pads are warranted for 100,000 miles. ICE cars waste about 65%. Ditto for driving around town. I can out accelerate almost anything on the road from 0 to 50 mph.

    No maintenance. Not only don’t I pay for even an oil filter, I just get in the car and drive it. After 11,000 miles I can’t find anything that needs attention. Then there is the peace and quiet both driving the car and standing beside it. Mornings my wife is leaving and we speak as she backs out the driveway. It’s like there is no car. And it doesn’t smell/stink. Drive electric and you start to realize how dirty, noisy and smelly the other cars are in the parking lot. How about listening to music? No noise inside with the windows up. How about handling? Most of the cars weight is less than 10″ off the ground giving it cornering performance similar to a formula one car. I could go on but I’m out of ink. If you don’t drive one, you can’t appreciate that this is 21st century technology that we should have been investing in decades ago.

  • Mike Dill

    I read the Edmonds article and then started searching for used EV’s in my area. I could not find any difference in the asking price from last year. Only then did I start thinking that the article was a set-up.

  • Here’s the Wall Street Journal’s summary from Motor Intellegence:

    http://online.wsj.com/mdc/public/page/2_3022-autosales.html

    Bloomberg covered the issue of America’s love for trucks and SUVs earlier this year:

    http://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2015-auto-sales/

    I wouldn’t worry about it. Big buggy whip and salesmen of the Surrey with the fringe on top kept the internal combustion engine from taking off quickly as well.

    • eveee

      Michael – Nice chart and story link. Fundamentally, there are four cars that dominate the BEV, EREV market. Leaf, Model S, and i3 dominate BEV because they are the only purpose built cars in that segment. Volt dominates EREV in that segment and it’s the only one in really significant numbers. All are growing well, but the Volt is down a bit awaiting it’s replacement soon.
      With such a small amount of market dominated by so few entrants, you expect noise, and yet it’s showing rapid, steady growth. The market is supply limited.
      This market does not depend on gas prices that much or other car sales. The only real competition is hybrids and we can’t be sure if the sales flattening in those is related.
      The Prius dominates the hybrids but is getting new competition and is replacing an aging model in a mature market. Those are all reasons why it’s sales could fall that have little to do with gas prices.

  • vorten

    Thanks for the info on the Edmunds article. I read the article and dismissed the story as propaganda for ICE cars but did not have time to do any research on my own. It still left me with a negative vibe about electric cars, a concern that EV’s were not catching on as fast as I thought. It was nice to read your accurate and cogent rebuttal to the assertions of the Edmunds article

  • GCO

    “Nasty”, definitely. Someone sent Edmunds a fat envelope again. Its piece looks carefully crafted for maximum disinformation; I can’t see how it could possibly be accidental.

    Edmunds misleads by repeatedly comparing non-matching categories (overlapping or disjointed), e.g:

    Car buyers are trading in hybrid and electric cars for SUVs

    Meaningless, because this can include anyone trading an hybrid SUV (e.g. Lexus 400h, etc) for a new one.
    Unfortunately, that’s not what most readers will imagine first, they’ll picture someone trading in a Model S for a Hummer (like that’s likely to happen…)

    only 45 percent of this year’s hybrid and EV trade-ins have gone toward the purchase of another alternative fuel vehicle

    Ding! Hybrids use gasoline, so Edmunds can conveniently exclude from this percentage anyone replacing an hybrid with another one, again misleading readers into thinking that those are jumping ship instead.

    Never mind reality: http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/04/13/3646004/electric-car-batteries-price/

  • eveee

    Sounds like someone with an axe to grind at edmunds. It’s sudpiciously pointed and off balance to be coincidence, especially the headline, which is designed to get high traffic.
    Regular hybrids are dominated by the Prius, at the end of a product cycle and due for a replacement, a normal event. Some journalists have gone wild with speculation about low gas prices spurring SUV sales, but the results are Not so simple. Take a look at this graph comparing 2014 to 2013. Monthly data is noisy.
    http://online.wsj.com/mdc/public/page/2_3022-autosales.html
    All cars are down and trucks are up, not just hybrids and electrics. So Edmunds is fudging a bit. What’s down is midsize and large cars, a trend that continues with the popularity of SUVs. The trend in SUVs has been towards smaller, more efficient ones. Small cars are up. Minivans are down. The largest growing segment is midsize SUV. Large SUV are down. Luxury SUV are up, but the numbers are smaller.
    We know that Leaf, S3, and i3 sales are up, unchanged.
    http://insideevs.com/monthly-plug-in-sales-scorecard/
    Tesla sales are up smartly in December, reaching over 3,500 units. Really, EVs are production, not market limited.
    So yes, Edmunds is using journalistic license to play up a story in an unbalanced way.

  • darth

    Don’t think for a minute that the old guard ICE industry won’t stoop to any tactic to try to slow the upcoming EV juggernaut. Spreading distortions and outright lies are normal tactics. There is a lot of capital invested in the ICE supply chain and those who are invested in that will not just let its value decline to zero without a fight.

    However, they will lose just like the utilities will lose to distributed solar because the cost curves are unstoppable.

    • Agreed. Seeing it quite clearly with solar & wind. Imagine there’s a lot to come for EVs.

      • jeffhre

        Edwards staff must have gotten a lot of chuckles out of every green car sales a drying up story it heard for a couple of days.

    • Doug Cutler

      A bit of a segue, but I just couldn’t wait to share. File under general resistance to the new energy paradigm.

      Achieving new heights in hutzpah and gobsmacking, arch global warming denier Sen. James Inhofe is now claiming we need a new push on nuclear to fight climate change citing James Hansen, no less!

      http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/04/24/3650610/americas-top-climate-denier-now-agrees-top-climate-scientist/

      To me this could
      indicate big money is finally throwing in the towel on big coal with big
      nuclear as a fall back position. All kinds of smoke coming from Wall
      Street the cheap grid storage is imminent, able to unleash 24/7 power of
      wind and solar: http://cleantechnica.com/2015/04/16/solar-plus-storage-is-coming-to-ders-says-finance-industry/

      Energy sea change finally overtaking GOP? I’m looking for Marco Rubio to change his spots next.

      • jeffhre

        We need nuclear to fight what did not exist as of the close of business yesterday? Wow, what flaming radical! Well your honor – welcome to the discussion, LOL!

        • Doug Cutler

          Its all about them cheques, ’bout them cheques . . .

          But that to me is the interesting part. Is this a aberration or has the GOP money flow taken a dramatic turn?

          • Doug Cutler

            OK, so looks like I got a little carried away as usual. I’ve gone back to the original Inhofe piece for context. Contrary to the interpretation of some, its not a full capitulation to climate change. He’s merely borrowing from Hansen – disingenuously, I think – to make a type of straw man argument.He’s basically attacking Obama admin energy policy that forecasts a long range decline in nuclear. Inhofe is saying, “look, you believe like Hansen in impending climate disaster so why aren’t you also adopting his recommendations for a nuclear renaissance. You must be incompetent,” as if Hansen should automatically be a top Obama energy advisor.

            Looks like these guys are prepared to go down with the ship after all.

          • Calamity_Jean

            Not only are they prepared to go down with the ship, they are sinking the ship.

    • Robert Pollock

      So true. Leasing our Spark EV from Chevrolet was so frustrating because Chevy didn’t want anything to do with EV’s, but was forced by Governor Brown to furbish them, that we ended up at the BBB, arguing over the $2000 deposit. I insisted on a car with the DC Fast Charge option. At the time they were about to start manufacturing them, but the Chevy sales people knew nothing about it. Actually they didn’t even know what it was.

  • jeffhre

    Radios and newspapers were repeating this ad-infinitum. I guess Edwards got just what they set out to gain from this.

    • Yeah, when the guy I was talking to mentioned USA TODAY, I was thinking, “Ugh, the media actually picked up this warped story.”

      • Robert Pollock

        The few that own the most in America not only own the news outlets, they also write the stories. News isn’t news anymore. When Pepsi says that “over 100 studies” show that Aspartame is safe, it really means they wrote 100 checks to “professionals” willing to sacrifice their credibility for cash.

  • Our esteemed 4th Estate… Clearly, this is yet another ‘Nasty.’

    Would there be any way to see if ANY EV owner traded in for a combustion vehicle? Perhaps a golf cart counts?

    Aren’t regular dealers forbidden to sell Teslas in many states? So CAN you even trade in a Tesla at a regular dealership?

  • Takeshi

    Even more importantly, they don’t seem to tell you anything about *overall retention* – how many people traded in their hybrid or EV to begin with? It could very well be that people are keeping these cars longer out of satisfaction, and the few that don’t were destined to trade-in anyways and now become over-represented.

    And I very much doubt that a hybrid Cadillac SUV driver has much in common with your average LEAF/Tesla/i3 owner, or even an owner of your average compact ICE car. Yet they, and others like them, will be in the mix.

    • GCO

      Even better, those hybrid Cadillac SUV drivers switching to a newer model of the same vehicle, can be counted as “trading in hybrid or electric cars for SUVs”.

  • JamesWimberley

    A one-year increase from 18.8% to 22% in the trade-in-for-SUV rate is not a “sharp increase”; it could easily just be noise. A fair report would a levelling-off, after the sharp increase in previous years.

    I don’t follow this closely, but I get the impression that there has been little innovation in the traditional hybrid sector. Certainly the green shine has gone off them. Serious green owners of a traditional hybrid considering a switch will go for a plug-in. Some fellow-travellers will go for the SUV. So what?

    • jeffhre

      The electrical part is the simple part for hybrids. Leading to the spectacular result of – higher gas mileage, meh. The innovations are – bigger batteries with plugs or “go home folks nothing to see here!” The emphasis has shifted from better gas mileage to let’s try not using any gas.

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