Mainstream media on electric cars: more thoughtful on their growth

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Chevrolet Bolt EV being charged outside Go Forth electric-car showroom, Portland   [photo: Forth]

Chevrolet Bolt EV being charged outside Go Forth electric-car showroom, Portland [photo: Forth]

As with any innovation, coverage of plug-in electric cars by mainstream media has been, shall we say, variable.

Seven years after the first Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt were delivered to their buyers in December 2010, misconceptions and misinformation abound.

Technology is often not a strong suit for business reporters, of course, and plug-in vehicles represent only 1 percent of the U.S. market after seven years.

But, slowly, we think media coverage of electric cars is getting better—as we'd suggest a handful of recent articles show.

DON'T MISS: Hey, media, get it straight: "electrified" is NOT "electric," and the difference matters

A recent piece in The New York Times titled "What Needs to Happen Before Electric Cars Take Over the World," for example, offered a relatively balanced look at what needs to happen for electric cars to take a major portion of the global market.

One paragraph alone indicates the measured but up-to-date approach taken in mid-December by author Jack Ewing:

Faster than anyone expected, electric cars are becoming as economical and practical as cars with conventional engines. Prices for lithium-ion batteries are plummeting, while technical advances are increasing driving ranges and cutting recharging times.

He cites, among other factors, the need for cheaper battery cells, steady raw-material supplies, and more and higher-speed public charging infrastructure.

Tesla Model S at Supercharger site in Ventura, CA, with just one slot open [photo: David Noland]

Tesla Model S at Supercharger site in Ventura, CA, with just one slot open [photo: David Noland]

Two pieces from Bloomberg approach the topic from different perspectives: One looks at the state of sales today, the other cites much cheaper batteries as the reason for future optimism.

In "The Near Future of Electric Cars: Many Models, Few Buyers," author Keith Naughton accurately noted in mid-December that despite more than two dozen models offered in some U.S. markets, plug-in electric vehicles remain a very small percentage of overall sales.

Just two weeks earlier, however, Mark Chediak penned a piece that looked at battery prices that are projected to fall far faster than most analysts and auto companies expected only five years ago.

That article, "The Latest Bull Case for Electric Cars: the Cheapest Batteries Ever," is based on predictions by Bloomberg New Energy Finance that battery-pack prices will fall to $100 per kilowatt-hour or below by 2025.

That's the magic number at which long-range electric cars are expected to be cost-competitive with conventional gasoline vehicles of the same size and shape.

Those gasoline vehicles will be pricier, based on the complexity and cost of the technology they will require to meet increasingly stringent limits on tailpipe emissions of carbon dioxide and rising fuel-economy standards around the world.

Prototype production of battery modules for BMW Group’s fifth-generation electric powertrain

Prototype production of battery modules for BMW Group’s fifth-generation electric powertrain

It's still possible to find plenty of articles on electric cars that are just plain lousy.

Whether they cite long-debunked notions that electric cars are charged on coal, or will bring down the electric grid, or are based entirely on materials sourced from child labor working in slave conditions, there's a lot of nonsense yet to be debunked.

We read dozens of articles every day, and it's fair to say that in reputable media, we see cause for optimism.

More reporters better understand the nuances of the emerging industries, and their fluency with the technical details seems to be increasing.

And in an environment where the term "fake news" occurs with distressing frequency, we think that's cause for celebration.

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