One key difference between the recent experience with EVs and those prior has been capacity of the digital era to challenge false information put out about the cars.
The New York Times recently got caught in another example of poor EV reporting. NYT writer John Broder touted that he outed the Model S as a poor answer for cold weather climates by getting stranded during an East Coast test drive intended to test Tesla’s new super-charger network. The story spread across the Internet – until it was caught, arrested, and discredited by Elon Musk himself. It appears that Mr. Broder was unaware that the car he was driving was reporting, real-time, back to Tesla every step of the way. The picture assembled by the car itself shows that the reporter in question was apparently fully vested in driving the car to exhaustion until he succeeded – and he was in fact stymied by the Tesla’s remarkable performance and engineering on a number of steps along the way. The episode almost comes across as the nugget for a new kind of Herbie the Love Bug movie.
Tesla confesses it failed to do its homework. The NYT reporter/driver has had a bone to pick with EVs for some time – check out this Broder statement from last year (a few months before EV sales hit monthly records): “Yet the state of the electric car is dismal, the victim of hyped expectations, technological flops, high costs and a hostile political climate.”
Broder’s earlier statement and fake test drive underscore an important point – rather than a technology flop, EVs are the world’s most connected, technologically sophisticated vehicles. That’s one of the reasons they are so beloved by their owners (across the category EVs garner the highest customer satisfaction ratings for any vehicle in an automaker’s portfolio). And the data those connected cars assemble about themselves are increasingly giving truth to the lies too often told about them. Not good in cold weather? Let’s look at the data logs from vehicles driven across Scandinavia – the world’s leader in EV adoption. Range issues? Let’s evaluate the performance of vehicles now logging roughly 50 million electric miles per month. Is there a sustainable market segment? Let’s unpack a vehicle category that has recaptured the imagination of the youngest drivers (the past year has witnessed 16 year olds receiving their first cars as electrics – those drivers may never own a traditional vehicle in their lifetime) while meeting the safety, security and predictable cost/performance needs of the oldest (new owners from the past year include 90 year olds on fixed incomes).
The New York Times, perhaps more than any outlet in the world, should understand that a series of anecdotes is not data. One reporter’s anecdotal feelings – perhaps grist for the inflammatory storytelling that is supposed to build audience – about EVs are becoming less useful and relevant by the day.
Another subtext from the NYT misfire is the importance of social media in securing the real EV story. EV drivers are like their vehicles – some of the most connected and technologically savvy people on the planet. They work, live and drive in community – physically, by virtue of their shared passion for their vehicles, and virtually, through growing online conversations where they swap information and stories about their real electric driving experience. National Plug In Day provides an example of the power of this connected conversation – we launched it in its second year to reach maybe 50 cities across the US. In the final tally, 65 cities hosted celebrations and 25,000 people were introduced to the vehicles. And instead of a “dismal state,” beginning just at that time sales reached and sustained monthly records, with the next important technology diffusion marker – 1% of total vehicle sales – now in sight for either this year or next.
While unfortunately embarrassing for an important outlet beloved by many, we don’t condemn the NYT for this episode. Instead, we say thank you for giving us this unlikely opportunity to demonstrate again the true staying power of the most connected, and coveted, cars on the planet. And next time, your most senior editors should drive one of these new plug ins. We’d love to come along for the ride.