Wall Street Journal’s Electric Vehicle Driving Test Misses Important Points

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The Wall Street Journal recently published a video that documented an electric vehicle driving test involving 8 reporters in 7 different electric vehicles in 8 cities. Each reporter drove an electric vehicle for three weeks.

Tesla Model 3 supercharging

The electric vehicles driven, with their locations, were:

Chevy Bolt,  Detroit, MI
Jaguar I-Pace, Raleigh, North Carolina
Nissan Leaf, Houston, TX
Nissan Leaf, Tokyo, Japan
Mercedes EQC, Germany
Hyundai Kona EV, Southern California
Buick Velite 6, China
Tesla Model 3, Virginia

The first reporter we see covers the automotive industry in Detroit, and drove a Chevy Bolt for the test. All the EVs used by the reporters were loaned by their manufacturers, with one exception — the Tesla Model 3 was rented through Turo.

At 6:14, the video narrator states that most electric vehicles can cost $10,000–20,000 more than comparable gas cars. This statement is one of the common EV myths. It doesn’t account for the total cost of ownership over the long-term. In some cases, electric vehicles — because they run on electricity, which is much cheaper than gasoline, and electric motors are 3–4x more efficient than gasoline engines — are cheaper to purchase and operate in the long run. Also, they typically cost less to maintain and repair because they have fewer moving parts: no fuel pump, no water pump, no catalytic converter, no tailpipe, no muffler, no fuel injectors, no spark plugs, no timing belt, no oil filter, no alternator, no starter, etc. If you have ever owned and operated a gas-powered vehicle and experienced multiple maintenance and repair costs in a short period of time, you know what getting “nickeled and dimed to death” is like.

Further, in the case of the Tesla Model 3, many people consider it to be at least in par with other premium-class sedans with a similar price.

At around the 7-minute mark, the idea that EVs cost more, even with the federal incentive, is repeated.

One EV characteristic the reporters noted was the “zip” they experienced when driving their electric vehicles. This quick acceleration trait is well known among EV drivers, but something probably still not known by the average WSJ reader.

Another experience noted in the WSJ video is the greater convenience of charging at home. About 80% or more of US EV charging is home charging. “At present, the tendency is for more than 80% of EV charging load (and as much as 93% under some scenarios) to happen at home, mostly in the evening.”

Charging at home is obviously much easier than charging at a public charger, but some people still think if they have an EV, charging will be a hassle. Charging at home is also easier than driving a gas-powered vehicle to a gas station and pumping gas.

Not all EV drivers own their own homes, though. Some rental units might not allow the installation of home chargers, so renters may have a more difficult time with charging. In such cases, one option is to charge from a wall plug with an extension cord, which is the slowest charging option. Another is to use public chargers, if they are nearby. Other rental units do allow home charger installation, so the situation seems to be one of having to ask before you rent or adapting to what is available if you are already renting.

The EVs the reporters drove had ranges of 200 miles (321 km) or more per charge, and that was enough for each one of them as they did their jobs and personal errands.

The next segment in the video goes into road trips beyond city driving. The narrator says these trips took significantly longer than expected.

The Raleigh, North Carolina, reporter in an I-Pace spent hours driving around looking for a public EV charger on a round trip journey of well under 300 miles to Wilmington, NC, and back. This is interesting because the ChargeHub website indicates there are 28 charging ports in and around the Wilmington area.

In Michigan, one reporter says she spent 19 hours charging and 30 hours total taking a road trip that she usually does in 10 hours using a gas-powered vehicle. One problem was freezing weather that reduced the Chevy Bolt’s range and increased charging times.

At 12:44 in the video, the narrator says that range anxiety is real, and it can be quite traumatic. There was no real trauma involved in the video. The American Psychological Association defines trauma as, “Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives. Psychologists can help these individuals find constructive ways of managing their emotions.”

Then there is a montage of shots of reporters in their electric vehicles saying words, like “quiet, silent, terror” and “sort of like Mad Max or Waterworld, when you’re out on the highway….” These comments seem like gratuitous exaggeration, which one might not expect from professional reporters.

Then there are shots of reporters talking about declining range and the narrator mentions that the vehicles don’t seem to indicate their ranges very accurately.

However, given that the reporters were having their first EV driving experiences, it seems more likely that they simply were not familiar with the technology and had not yet learned how to drive these vehicles.

Adoption of EVs - The next generation

In the next segment, the lack of public EV chargers is noted for the non-Tesla EVs.

Again, there is no presentation of the fact that 80% or more of US EV charging happens at home, and it’s more convenient than driving a gas-powered vehicle to a gas station and it’s much cheaper. Not all the reporters were located in the US, but because it’s an American publication, one might expect many viewers of a WSJ video about EVs to be Americans.

The video goes on and on about the lack of public EV chargers for non-Tesla EV drivers, but still somehow overlooks the fact that 80% or more of US EV charging happens at home!

It’s like whoever wrote the script for the narration was fixated on this “problem” about the lack of public chargers and completely missed this very important context.

Another relevant fact is that most vehicle trips in the US at least are 40 miles (64 km) or less. With the new EVs, range per charge is 200 miles (321 km) or more, which is well beyond what is required to complete these trips. EV drivers can commute to work, go grocery shopping, and then drive home with plenty of range left. Then, they can charge at home while watching TV, having dinner, doing laundry, etc.

The video goes on to explain that there is more EV charging infrastructure in China because of stronger government support for it. It also mentions growing interest in EVs in Germany but doesn’t say that older diesel vehicles have been banned from some Germany cities because they generate toxic air pollution. In other words, there are very good reasons for supporting electric vehicles there that were not mentioned.

Inexplicably, the video shows a reporter in an EV parked at a gas station saying this would be a good place to put an EV charger. Then the reporter says something like, “How can you have enough electric cars on the roads, if you can’t charge them?”

Again, typically, EV charging happens at home! You know why? Because it’s a lot more convenient. It’s really easy, and you can charge at night when electricity is at its lowest cost. Why would anyone drive an EV to a gas station and pay more for electricity at a public charger? Unless you wanted to deliberately waste time and money! This particular reporter was in Germany at the time and was renting, so he didn’t have a home charger, but this is the exception and not the rule.

Near the end of the video, there is a summary of the problems: the lack of public charging options, the range, and the vehicle cost. But, again, the total cost of ownership for some EVs is less than that of a gas-powered equivalent vehicle over the lifetime of each vehicle. Also, again, most EV charging, at least in the US, happens at home! Current EV range for the new vehicles is now typically well over 200 miles per charge, which is enough for many drivers — especially for people who want a commuter vehicle primarily.

Oddly, after mentioning these problems, the narrator then said the reporters could make the EVs work for their daily driving.

Following this statement, the California reporter said the LA to Vegas trip he took in a Hyundai Kona EV was “pretty traumatizing.” Of course, this claim is not accurate because trauma is not merely some anxiety or some discomfort.

This particular part of the video is quite reminiscent of the New York Times reporter who drove from LA to Vegas and back yet didn’t seem to understand what was going on during the trip, and blamed the EV, a Chevy Bolt. CleanTechnica debunked the claims made in that piece, thoroughly. Kyle Field drove this very trip in his Tesla Model 3 and reported about it for CleanTechnica. Further, we’ve published reports of people doing it in a Chevy Bolt easily, and even routinely. It should be just as easy for the Hyundai Kona EV.

Where the WSJ EV video test really fell down is that it didn’t mention why EVs are much better for the environment and for human health, particularly in cities — because they don’t generate any direct toxic air pollution.

It seems quite peculiar that the WSJ video doesn’t mention how harmful air pollution from gas and diesel-powered vehicles is. Here is some background information from the World Health Organization: “Air pollution kills an estimated seven million people worldwide every year. WHO data shows that 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants. WHO is working with countries to monitor air pollution and improve air quality. From smog hanging over cities to smoke inside the home, air pollution poses a major threat to health and climate.”

Another odd omission is the fact that Teslas are selling very well in the US and in other countries — in fact, much better than the EV competition and the premium-class car competition. Tesla has better public chargers, meaning they are efficient, available, and fast.

Another misconception about EVs is that they’re all about the same, but this is not true. Teslas have greater range, better energy efficiency, better technology, and have access to a superior charging network.

When I interviewed a Tesla Model 3 owner about a 4,000-mile road trip he took with his son, he didn’t have any major problems or complaints, and it certainly wasn’t “traumatizing.” In fact, he enjoyed it. Many Tesla owners drive on more road trips than previously because they enjoy them so much more now. A European road trip of over 5,000 miles in a Tesla Model S with kids was also an experience to look forward to.

With the Teslas in particular, the WSJ video didn’t capture at all how much Tesla owners really like their cars, or even love them. Also, most EV drivers have indicated they will not go back to driving a gas-powered vehicle.

Overall, the WSJ EV test tried to be thorough in some ways, but it didn’t present some key facts that one could argue are the most important ones. Electric vehicles are better for the environment and human health. The total cost of ownership can be less than for similar gas-powered vehicles that also spew toxic pollutants. Nothing about driving an electric vehicle is “traumatizing,” or anywhere near traumatizing. The “problems” the reporters experienced were sometimes merely limitations in driver awareness and unrealistic expectations.

At least the WSJ video did not bash EVs, but it simply wasn’t all that well-researched and missed a number of key EV aspects and benefits.

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Jake Richardson

Hello, I have been writing online for some time, and enjoy the outdoors. If you like, you can follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/JakeRsol

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