Are electric vehicles treated unfairly by the car press?

Are the critics justified in their often negative perceptions of electric vehicles or do these cars, particularly in their formative stages of their development, deserve less scathing analysis?

Rory Reid
4 min read

Electric vehicles often get a bad rap in the press. Journalists criticise their limited range, high price, future resale value, lack of noise, looks -- just about every aspect imaginable. Hands up, including us. But are us critics justified in our sometimes negative reporting of these vehicles, or do electric cars, particularly in these formative stages of their development, deserve less scathing analysis?

Examples of less than flattering media coverage of the electric car is easy to find. In 2006, the Wall Street Journal's Joseph White described the iconic GM EV1 as "a failure... launched to placate California clean-air regulators." Time magazine got in on the act early, too, placing the EV1 on its list of 'The 50 Worst Cars of All Time'.

In 2008, Jeremy Clarkson was criticised for appearing to show a Tesla Roadster running out of battery during a test on the BBC's Top Gear programme. It later emerged that neither that car, nor the backup car Tesla had supplied for the test, had less than 20 per cent of its battery power remaining. Top Gear had staged the event, it says, to illustrate what would happen when an EV does run out of juice.

The apparent anti-EV propaganda reached fever pitch most recently when the Beeb again appeared to bash electric cars without justification. BBC correspondent Brian Milligan drove a prototype electrified BMW Mini E a total of 484 miles from London to Edinburgh claiming that, although it was "arguably an unfair test", people genuinely wanted to know how electric vehicles compared to their 'normal' counterparts.

Unsurprisingly, the BBC's report showed EV technology in a negative light. After a four-day journey punctuated by numerous recharge stops at cold, wet public charging points, the Mini E arrived at its destination having averaged just 6mph.

Many national newspapers appear to have hopped on the EV-bashing bandwagon, and even CNET UK, a technologically forward-thinking publication, has questioned whether EV technology is currently mature enough for mainstream use.

In this article, we asked whether EVs were too expensive to buy, whether their running costs were a false economy and questioned whether they were, at this comparatively early stage in their development, viable alternatives to old-fashioned gas guzzlers.

The evidence really does stack up against the media. We writers, bloggers and presenters, it would seem, are inherently biased against electric cars with every fibre of our being -- and EV lovers are quick to highlight this.

The EV community questioned Clarkson's motives over the Tesla Roadster review; Nissan's senior VP Andy Palmer literally called '"bullshit" on claims that EVs were just as dirty as cars with internal combustion engines; Tesla Motors sent EV enthusiast David Peilow to prove to the BBC that an electric Roadster could complete a London to Scotland journey in a single day; and EV enthusiast Robert Lewellyn, who played Kryten in Red Dwarf, openly criticised our report, clashing with us face to face in this video.

EV enthusiasts say some journalists are biased and yes, some are to a certain extent. In our defence, though, we'd argue that journalists are 'biased' against just about anything with a flaw. We're biased against cars that only drive 100 miles before requiring a recharge, just as we're biased against iPhones that can't make callsoperating systems with security holes, and national football teams that don't fulfil their potential. We're biased against Susan Boyle's hair.

It's in our nature to pull things apart, to criticise and to report it so the public doesn't waste money on rubbish products, and so manufacturers don't cut corners and fob us off with substandard tat. 

We can't speak for every media outlet, but we genuinely believe that any publication worth reading has a responsibility to be strident in its criticism of products that fall short of expectations, even if those products are honourable by design. Even, as we're lead to believe, if these products will eventually save the world.

Obviously we can't rely on petrol cars forever, but we all need to come to an agreement on what constitutes a viable alternative. The nature of a journalist's role in this industry means we'll have to put the boot into EVs where we feel it's justified -- just as we do with petrol cars that don't live up to expectations. Even Clarkson admitted the "volt-head had beaten the petrol-head" when the Roadster beat a Lotus Elise in a drag race.

So digest our analysis, challenge us where necessary, share your views and together we'll help influence the next generation of EVs -- hopefully for the better.