October 2011 Electric Car Hater Award: Louis Woodhill from Forbes Magazine
Plugincars.com is proud to announce the winner of this month’s Hater’s Award for EV Hating Excellence.
The winner for the month of October 2011 is the Forbes article entitled, “Electric Cars are an Extraordinarily Bad Idea,” an opinion piece by Mr. Louis Woodhill. The title is probably enough, but I will point out that the author appears to really hate electric cars. His article scored well across the board in all Hater categories. Did I mention that he hates electric cars?
Throughout, Mr. Woodhill does extremely well in the “falsehoods” category largely due to the sheer volume of false and misleading information. In a single representative paragraph, he squeezes in three consecutive falsehoods about the Nissan LEAF. He contends that:
- A $35,000 Nissan LEAF is comparable to a $17,000 Nissan Versa. [Double false on price and comparison.]
- It is almost impossible to drive a LEAF more than 60 miles a day. [Wow. Definitely false.]
- The LEAF accelerates more slowly than the Versa. [False again. Ever driven one?]
The rest of the article is littered with falsehoods as well, but never as compactly and efficiently as in that particular passage.
In another section, he teeters perilously close to disqualifying himself from the Hater Award. Here, he actually acknowledges the potential economic benefit of an electric car by making relatively non-skewed estimates of the cost to fuel a gasoline car versus the cost to fuel an electric car. That little flirtation with fair-mindedness hurts his score in the "glaring omissions" and "unmitigated gall" categories. In the end, he redeems himself as a Hater (phew) by hugely mischaracterizing the upfront costs of the cars he is comparing—apparently just enough to ensure that fossils fuels come out as the winner.
First, he ignores the whopping $7,500 federal tax credit that reduces the LEAF’s price to the mid-$20,000s (which then gets further reduced by state and regional tax incentives). Just as ignores those tax breaks, he rolls his eyes at that same federal support, claiming that federal subsidies and fuel economy requirements will “force auto companies to manufacture 1,000,000 electric cars by 2015”—apparently confusing President Obama’s goal with a fantasy 1M EV mandate. Of course, he writes that nothing will be able to force consumers to buy such useless vehicles.
Road Kill: Reality
The most memorable part of the article describes a Washington, DC snowstorm and a prolonged traffic jam. The author figures that the snowstorm would magically kill all the EVs. Woodhill writes, “Every single one of them in the DC area would have ended up stranded on the side of the road, dead.” Of course, he had to make a few assumptions to get there. He had to dramatically overestimate the energy draw to keep the car warm in bad weather (conveniently overlooking that gas cars burn petroleum as they idle, while electric cars barely use any power when stuck in crawling traffic).
He is also assuming that every one of the EV owners will leave for home without wondering about their cars' range, and every one will simultaneously forget to recharge at work. And, each one of them will just happen to live just outside of their car’s range—apparently discovering the car’s capabilities for the very first time. So in this vivid and utterly fictional portrayal, EVs look pretty bad. That earns Woodhill extra credit in the unmitigated gall category.
The article does well in the “appearance of authority” category. The author mentions his background as a mechanical engineer. And the article appears in Forbes, which generally has a good reputation. As an engineer, he probably has enough of a science background to be familiar with carbon dioxide and the Keeling curve. (By the way, is anybody doing fact-checking at Forbes, even if it is an opinion piece?)
Toward the end of the article, Woodhill turns to openly shilling for (surprise!) the fossil fuel industry. We don’t need electric cars, he argues. All we need are cars that run on compressed natural gas (CNG). New fracking technology, he asserts, will make natural gas cheap and abundant. Where do I even start? He leaves out quite a few jaw-dropping problems about both CNG and fracking. The argument that CNG is going to take the automotive world by storm, while EVs die out, is just fracking ridiculous.
Falsehoods = 9.2
Glaring omissions = 7.3
Appearance of authority = 8.5
Unmitigated gall: = 9.4
Final Score = 8.6
At the end of the year, we will tally Woodhill's score against other award winners, in order to declare the hating-est EV hater for 2011.
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