In the star-studded 1962 blockbuster “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” a minor character ironically finishes the film with the most iconic-yet-frequently-misquoted line, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” This character’s frustrated muttering was a commentary on the state of yellow journalism and politics in the Wild West of the nineteenth century, but it’s equally applicable to the social media, extremist journalism and “big lie” politicians of the 2020’s. As summarized well by Seven Circumstances, “What the public demanded, the public got. And what they got, they believed.”
There are several aspects of this that apply to Electric Vehicles (EVs), which need to be collectively understood as to end believing in the legend and escalating global warming: the greenest option, the Chinese demand and the resulting US demand.
Legend #1: The Greenest Option
Despite TED talks and mainstream articles about how hybrid vehicles outperform EVs until 450,000 miles (due to the arduous mining of materials for a larger battery) and additional tales of other options (e.g., “Why Aren’t More People Talking About Solar Cars?”), the public still believes electric vehicles are the greenest solution.
As a result, six incumbent automakers signed a COP26 pledge to phase out fossil-fuel vehicles by 2040 and a few like General Motors have committed to earlier dates (2035).
And politicians keep retelling the legend. The POTUS Joe Biden has spoken, spent and tweeted that “The future of the auto industry is electric,” Chanceller Olaf Scholz announced “As the federal [German] government we support the transition …” and pushed for charging infrastructure, and President Droupadi Murmu touted that India has taken a commendable lead via a policy push of electric vehicles.
Print the legend.
Legend #2: The Chinese Demand
The legend is that China, as the #1 automotive market in the world, has demonstrated to the world that EV demand is increasing rapidly.
But maybe not. As eloquently summarized by John Serpentza, “By now, we’ve all heard that China’s EV sales are outpacing the rest of the world. You’ll see the headlines that say, ‘Ah, China is now the leader in EV sales, and Tesla’s gotta watch out and all this other nonsense. But guess what: it’s true. The numbers are true. But what you’re not taking into consideration: China is the land of shortcuts and facades.”
As reported by Forbes (“Large Number of Chinese EV Sales Fake, Investigators Say”), “According to reports from China, companies assemble poor-quality vehicles and sell them to their own car rental companies, which exist only to obtain the subsidies. There have been reports of alleged plug-in buses which never are plugged in.” Tens of thousands of vehicles litter massive vehicle-graveyards exactly as millions of bicycles were abandoned after another, heavy Chinese subsidy in 2018 for bike-sharing. Ironically, both initiatives likely hurt the environment given the carbon footprint required to gather materials and manufacture the wasted vehicles.
But let’s not stop there: in China, electric vehicles are part of a category called “New Energy Vehicles” (NEVs), which additionally count everything from plug-in hybrids to pure EVs. So any count – even if generously believed to be sincere – is murky at best.
Print the legend.
Legend #3: The Resulting US Demand
As reported by the International Energy Agency (IEA), “Market trends and policy efforts in major car markets are supporting a bright outlook for EV sales. Under the IEA Stated Policies Scenario (STEPS), the global outlook for the share of electric car sales based on existing policies and firm objectives has increased to 35% in 2030, up from less than 25% in the previous outlook. In the projections, China retains its position as the largest market for electric cars with 40% of total sales by 2030 in the STEPS. The United States doubles its market share to 20% by the end of the decade as recent policy announcements drive demand, while Europe maintains its current 25% share.”
Yet, WardsAuto recently reported an average weekly inventory of 90,000 EVs in Q2, which is 342% higher than 2022. Cox Automotive then conducted a survey of 1,024 consumers and 152 dealers that revealed a gap in EV enthusiasm – especially in affordability, per 42% of respondents – and “… a lack of EV readiness among US automotive dealers regarding sales and service.”
Yes, Biden’s infrastructure legislation will pump $7.5 billion in EV charging, $10 billion in clean transportation, and over $7 billion in EV battery components, critical minerals, and materials. That unprecedented spending may finally jumpstart US demand for EVs.
Why? Because legends became facts, and so we’re collectively printing the legends and the money to support it.
Some will consider this article or author as being environmentally unfriendly. I beg to differ.
For starters, I recently bought a hybrid vehicle specifically to put our household’s money where its mouth (or keyboard) is. Knowing that the Doomsday Clock professes we are ninety seconds from eco-disaster’s metaphorical midnight, it’s irresponsible to continue down the same path of yesterday. Whilst penning this article, I’m cautiously huddled in a Munich hotel away from a blistering 93F (34C) outside, and multiple cities are enduring the previously reported flooded cars. Global warming is legit, and we all must do our part to curb it.
But secondly, history has shown that “big lies” never lead to better solutions. We must curb our addiction to shallow mistruths if we wish to save ourselves.
Maybe then, we can just print facts.