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Why Are Many Media Channels Dismissive Of Electric Vehicles — Teslas Included?

What kinds of language choices frame EVs as bad in the media?

Way too many media channels are dismissive of EVs, and it’s time for it to stop. It doesn’t make any sense to use age-old excuses anymore. These are no longer valid statements:

  • “EV battery life is uncertain.”
  • “EV range isn’t enough to get people where they need to go.”
  • “EVs are too expensive for the average person.”

The LA Times quotes Ford as saying a third of its vehicles will be electric by 2030. Volkswagen plans to sell a million EVs annually by 2022. At Volvo, half of its offerings will be electric by 2025.

Why are so many media channels lagging behind automakers’ (albeit too slow) transition to EVs? Let’s look more closely at some language use by prominent media voices that perpetuates hesitancy about EVs. Maybe we can come up with some answers to counter the negative talk that continues to be too dismissive of EVs.

dismissive of EVs

Photo by Carolyn Fortuna, CleanTechnica

It’s All about the Language, Stupid

Let’s start by checking out this Edmund’s intro to EVs from January 2020:

“A decade ago, when the Nissan Leaf appeared as the first widely available mainstream electric car, the only drivers genuinely interested in buying one were early adopters with short commutes. With only about 100 miles of range and a new consumer phenomenon later dubbed ‘range anxiety,’ the Leaf had limited appeal.”

Intentional retrospective? Maybe. But starting off the article with negatives like “range anxiety” and “limited appeal” serves to reinforce existing myths. And “a decade” later, the Nissan LEAF is still one of the best-selling electric vehicles on the market. Why? It’s inexpensive and most people find that the range is fine for their daily driving needs.

“But in subsequent years, advances in battery design and packaging meant more miles, broadening the acceptance of electric vehicles. Gradually, more buyers could envision using an EV for trips to and from work or for errand runs around town. Today’s EVs range from pokey and basic to fast and luxurious, with price tags to match.”

Acknowledging that “advances” occurred to allow greater range and ease consumer ennui about making it to work on time, the article creates a false equivalence where EVs are either “pokey and basic” or “fast and luxurious.” Of course, any aspiring EV owner wants the best, but, according to Edmund’s, getting something truly desirable supposedly means high “price tags.”

Yet a press release by Kelley Blue Book outlines how the estimated average transaction price for a light vehicle in the US was $37,851 in January, 2020, with new-vehicle prices increasing $1,296 (3.5%) from January 2019. That’s nearly the base price of a Tesla Model 3 and doesn’t take into account the large operational cost savings of a Model 3. Other EVs can also be highly desirable, compared to gasoline cars at least, and come at an even lower price, especially after incentives (Tesla buyers no longer benefit from the $7500 federal EV tax credit). Edmunds does admit….

“But if you don’t need a lot of range, some of today’s top electric vehicles can be had for the price of an average sedan, and for even less when you factor in federal and state incentives.”

The qualifier “if you don’t need a lot of range” seems to dampen the idea that “today’s top electric vehicles can be had for the price of an average sedan,” doesn’t it? And there’s no explanation for folks new to the EV world how “federal and state incentives” might make the price of a brand-spanking-new EV more affordable or what “[not] a lot of range” is and how it compares to average daily driving in the US.

Disconnects are the Result of Media that is Dismissive of EVs

The LA Times asked in a recent article, “Why the disconnect?” Why, although the number of battery-electric models available more than doubled in 2019, didn’t EV sales increase over previous year?

In addition to range anxiety, cost, and non-fluctuating gas prices, the LA Times suggests style is a reason that EVs haven’t caught on:

“Tesla created an EV lifestyle brand. Everyone else is still trying to figure out whether buyers want electric versions of standard designs or something entirely new.”

I’d like to take this a step further. For the most part, Tesla has eschewed traditional advertising mechanisms, choosing, instead, to remain resolutely committed to unconventional marketing. The Palo Alto company says it doesn’t really advertise — and that’s part of its larger approach to do cars differently than has ever been done before. You’re not going to see Tesla promotional materials look like the kind of historic marketing campaigns long favored by other auto companies, which have relied on a select balance of radio, print, and television ads.

Media channels are dependent on old-fashioned advertising to survive. Marketing and advertising are coalescing, with rising dependence on data sources to personalize advertising and measure performance, but the bottom line is that media companies need to run advertising to make money. As the company takes more market share and leaves other automakers with less cash for advertising, Tesla’s stick-it-up-your-nose attitude is going to hit where it hurts — the P&L bottom line.

The LA Times summarizes the sales divergence between most EV models and Tesla.

“The numbers in the United States look especially grim. Tesla remains the exception. U.S. sales of the Model 3 grew by 14% in 2019.”

Our analysis shows that Tesla accounted for 78% of US electric vehicle sales in 2019.

It hurts legacy carmakers to see Tesla’s vision for a zero emissions future is coming to be reality. And the way that Tesla gets its message out is as disruptive as the powertrain transformation. That is almost entirely organically getting consumers excited about the products so they become the voices of the products and the avenues of new sales.

dismissive of EVs

Other Media Voices that Fail to Fully Acknowledge Electric Vehicle Potential

Let’s do a final and quick scan of other stories to demonstrate a pattern of the media being dismissive of EVs’ power and potential.

Forbes: “With the amount of debate and misinformation troubling the waters, the facts behind the efficiency of electric vehicles have become somewhat clouded – so just how clean are these vehicles?”

Using words in the lede like “misinformation,” “troubling the waters,” “clouded,” and “just how clean” serves to reinforce misconceptions and negative sentiment — even if the subsequent article debunks some of these notions.

The Guardian: “Electric Cars: The Good, the Bad, and the Costly”

You’d never know it from the title of this article that readers were condemning the British government for not doing more to make EVs the drive of choice. Words like “bad” and “costly” overshadow the “good,” perpetuating the pessimism that has surrounded EVs for way too long.

Newsweek: “Electric Cars are Bad News for America’s Crumbling Roads”

This article moves away from EVs themselves, actually suggesting they’re here to stay. The focus, instead, is on something else negative — an implication that choosing an EV results in a kind of disloyalty to US infrastructure. Without paying your share of US gas taxes, you’ll be directly contributing to “crumbing roads.” Of the many, many gaps in this story, one that needs to be stated overtly is that fossil fuel companies receive huge subsidies annually and should be the ones fixing road infrastructure problems. They also contribute to societal problems such as air pollution that come with much greater costs and are not covered at all by gas taxes.

Internationally, governments provide at least $775 billion to $1 trillion annually in subsidies, not including other costs of fossil fuels related to climate change, environmental impacts, military conflicts and spending, and health impacts.

Washington Post: “Liberals Love Electric Cars, but Combustion Engines are Still the Future”

The article not only sets up falsely contentious relationships between “liberals” as EV owners and everyone else out there, but the content argues that “Democrats promise to underwrite the added cost by doling out billions in taxpayer cash to, well, taxpayers, if they go electric.” Who wants  a government that is in the practice of “doling out billions?” The question is poignant if, as the title argues, “combustion engines are still the future.”

Oh, yeah. Two years after Trump and congressional Republicans enacted their tax cut for the wealthy and large corporations, none of their promised results are happening. Those tax cuts are not creating anything close to the economic growth promised. In fact, economic growth under Trump has been lower than under Obama in his last three years as president — even before the coronavirus-linked stock market collapse. It’s time to keep our perspectives clear that EVs are part of a much-needed, wide plan to mitigate the climate crisis. There’s no room any longer for cronyisms that favor some and really hurt the rest, especially when being dismissive of EVs serves only to keep people from enjoying a really fun, efficient, and high-tech means of sustainable transportation.

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Written By

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. She's won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. As part of her portfolio divestment, she purchased 5 shares of Tesla stock. Please follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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