Naysayers launch last-ditch efforts to discredit electric vehicles
As long as there have been EVs, there have been anti-EV hit pieces in the media. No, they aren’t all financed by fossil fuel interests (ironically, the trade magazine OilPrice.com often publishes objective news about Tesla and the threat that EVs pose to the oil industry). Some are penned by old-school auto industry types, some by stock market short-sellers, and some by individuals who simply dislike EVs for whatever reasons. A lot of them are simply the products of writers (I won’t call them journalists) who know that contrarian, turd-in-the-punchbowl stories generate clicks.
Now that the Year of the EV is finally upon us, and the end of the Oil Age is at hand, we’re seeing some desperate, last-ditch attempts to tarnish (with oily black soot) the public image of EVs. Some of these are truly comical, and others are just pathetic.
By far the most popular myth with the electrophobic crowd is called the “long tailpipe” argument—the idea that EVs pollute more than gas vehicles if they are powered by coal. This bugaboo (which, to be fair, may sound logical to the vast majority whose understanding of thermodynamics is limited) has popped up again and again over the last two decades, usually in articles with the words “dirty little secret” in the headline. It’s been debunked by dozens of studies.
Another tired argument is the idea that producing EV batteries generates so much pollution that it cancels out the emissions savings over the lifetime of an EV. This one contains a grain of truth—battery production does have substantial environmental impacts, but these are offset by an EV’s emissions savings after a year or two of driving.
A tried-and-untrue trope that’s been getting traction lately is the fantasy that EV batteries are difficult (or expensive, or something) to recycle. Again, this one has a tiny grain of truth—it will take some time and investment to build a global battery recycling infrastructure at the needed scale. However, any worries over this issue vanish when you learn that around 99% of today’s lead-acid batteries are recycled, and that the materials in lithium-ion batteries are much more valuable than lead. A number of companies, including Redwood Materials, Li-Cycle, and several automaker-sponsored ventures, are gearing up to take advantage of the opportunity battery recycling presents.
Above: Tesla's mission, according to Elon Musk, has been to expedite EVs in the face of opposition (YouTube: Stanford Graduate School of Business)
James Morris, in a recent Forbes article, described a few of the more comical EV-hatin’ stories that have been making the rounds. A recent hit piece that recycled the “battery production produces emissions” story was traced to a fictitious PR firm with ties to Aston Martin, one of the few automakers that has yet to develop an EV. In November, researcher Auke Hoekstra, a tireless debunker of anti-EV propaganda, found evidence that Aston Martin employees had created the so-called “study,” which was riddled with falsehoods and misinformation (as reported by CleanTechnica). As is unfortunately so often the case, the planted “study” was picked up by several mainstream newspapers, which took it at face value.
Another eye-roller comes courtesy of TorqueNews, which seems to specialize in glowing reviews of Toyota vehicles. (TorqueNews, incidentally, plagiarized an article that I wrote about Tesla batteries last July, running it word-for-word under someone else’s name, with no attribution.)
The premise of the latest TorqueNews exposé is that people are trading in their Teslas in order to buy Toyota RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrids—quite a revelation, considering that Tesla claimed in 2018 that the Prius was the top model buyers were trading in for a Model 3, and the admissions by Toyota execs that they have been losing sales to Tesla. It turns out that this TorqueNews tour de force is just one in a series of articles about the wonders of Toyota’s hybrids, which we’re told are winning drivers away from EVs in droves. To be fair, the RAV4 hybrid is a popular vehicle (and I found it to be a nice ride too)—the standard hybrid version sold 116,000 units in the US in 2020, and the plug-in Prime version sold 3,200—but it isn’t exactly burying Tesla, which sold 499,550 vehicles worldwide in 2020.
The argument that drivers are trading in Teslas for hybrids is a contrarian one, to say the least. The TorqueNews piece quoted a total of a dozen or so drivers, a couple of whom said they love their Teslas, but like having a RAV4 too. On the other hand, a 2020 survey of UK EV owners by Zap-Map found that 91% said they would never go back to a gas-burner; a 2020 AAA survey of EV owners found that 96% would buy or lease another EV the next time they were in the market; and a 2020 survey by fleetcarma found that 89% of respondents said the range of their EV was sufficient for their daily needs (for owners of long-range EVs such as Teslas, the figure was 98%).
Of course, the media is not the only source of fossil-fuel-fortifying fallacies. The automakers themselves (and don’t even get me started on auto dealers) have always been a reliable source of anti-EV misinformation and self-defeating can’t-do statements. Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda’s recently unleashed an anti-EV tirade that included a rehashing of the long tailpipe fallacy and a prophecy of doom for “the current business model of the car industry” (he may have been correct about the last bit).
Lexus has often drawn ridicule from the EV industry for running highly misleading ads touting the superiority of its hybrids over pure EVs. Its latest flight of fantasy involves what it refers to as a “self-charging hybrid”—essentially, a perpetual motion machine. Last January, Norway’s Consumer Authority banned ads for the fictional conveyance (as reported by EV Norway, via Tesmanian), after consumers pointed out its physical impossibility.
Unfortunately, as James Morris described in detail in another Forbes article, the basic laws of physics may not seem so basic to the average person, and some drivers are falling for the con. Mr. Morris reports that Kia has also attempted to hoodwink consumers with a “self-charging” Niro hybrid. How’s this for irony: we’ve all heard conspiracy-minded folks insisting that there are cars that run on water, which the auto industry has been suppressing. Now the auto industry itself is trying to get people to believe in equally nonsensical modes of propulsion.
Of course, more enlightened souls such as you, dear readers, will see the latest crop of anti-EV hit pieces for what they are: the last kicks of a dying mule, which we’re told can be quite forceful. The flood of FUD will probably never end, even after the last ICE vehicle is towed away. (“In my grand-dad’s day, they had cars that ran on this stuff called gasoline, and golly, they were so much better.”) Fortunately, performance and coolness will always be the factors that sell cars, and once a prospective buyer experiences the Tesla Smile, they’ll forget the nattering of the naysayers.
Written by: Charles Morris