Since purchasing an electric vehicle (EV), I have noticed damaging behavior among EV owners: our willingness to feed directly into the misinformation and frames that exist about EVs. At first it may seem counterintuitive to think that those who have dedicated so much time to sorting through this misinformation would be the same people to get stuck in these frames designed to discount the benefits of the exact type of vehicles they own. Unfortunately it happens all of the time.
If you’re familiar with George Lakoff and his work, then you know about cognitive linguistics and how issues are framed. Below are 5 frames that we (as EV owners) often fall prey to.
With all of the talk about EVs and range anxiety, you would think it’s a major problem. Range Anxiety, they say, is a condition EV owners experience because their car’s batteries only have a limited amount of driving range between each charge.
Even though you hear the condition mentioned when talking about EVs, it doesn’t exist. And here’s why. Like any vehicle purchase, each prospective owner does her due diligence before purchasing the car, and everyday before plugging in. What I mean by that is, if the car’s 100 miles range per charge is not suitable for your driving needs, you don’t buy it. So, anyone who owns an EV doesn’t have range anxiety because they know the car’s range meets their driving needs.
Furthermore, every car on the road has a range. The range of a gas powered car is how much fuel its tank holds. The range of an EV is its battery capacity. Both systems have limited range.
Consumption vs. Delivery
The first criticism you might hear about EVs is that they are no better for the environment than gas powered cars because the electricity needed to recharge them is generated largely by coal fired plants. Burning coal to make electricity releases CO2 into the atmosphere. So the argument goes, compare the release of CO2 to make the electricity needed to charge EVs to the tailpipe emissions of gas powered cars and it’s a wash.
The problem with that comparison is that while EVs do have a delivery cost (producing electricity to charge them) they don’t have a consumption cost. Gas powered vehicles have both, a delivery and consumption cost.
For gas powered vehicles, their delivery cost is the production of gasoline. This cost comes in the form of extraction, refinement, and delivery of fuel to gas stations – that is the delivery cost just as extraction and burning of coal makes up the delivery cost of fuel (electricity) for EVs. But unlike gas powered cars, EVs don’t have a consumption cost, they don’t release CO2 as they drive. Understanding this, comparing the delivery cost (EV) vs. consumption cost (gas powered vehicle) makes no sense even before adding in the delivery cost of a gas powered vehicle.
Electric Vehicles as Green
Everywhere you turn, there’s an article or review which features EVs as green vehicles. They even show up on the Top Ten Green Cars list. But looking at these cars as strictly green cars is problematic.
To start with, green has almost no meaning when ascribing it to environmental friendliness. In today’s world, a company can claim they are “green” by reducing fuel consumption in their fleet, changing light bulbs from incandescent to CFL or even by donating a portion of their profits to environmental groups. Are we really to believe all of these actions have an equally desirable impact? Of course not. Second, cars still have an environmental cost, even cars like the Leaf that make use of recycled materials during production. Finally, we know that just owning and driving a car has a negative impact on the environment through the proliferation of urban sprawl and impervious surface.
EVs are so much more than “green”, whatever that means, and by limiting the discussion to their green credentials we are doing the cars and technology a disservice. People will buy EVs not because they think they are “green”, but because they are a better option than gas powered vehicles. There are many aspects of my Nissan Leaf that are flat out better than any gas powered car I have owned. Is there anyone who doesn’t want a car that never needs an oil change?
Gas Powered Vehicles as Normal or Regular
I still catch myself doing it. When discussing gas powered vehicles and EVs, I have caught myself saying, “the Leaf is different from a normal car because…”. The fact is that EVs are normal, they just have a different source of power. Vehicles that run on gasoline have an internal combustion engine and EVs have an electric motor.
Compact Electric Vehicle = Compact Gas Powered Vehicle
A lot of comparisons are drawn between the Nissan Leaf and the Nissan Versa. While there are similarities (does anyone think the GMC Seirra is not the Chevrolet 1500), anyone who has been in a Leaf and Versa knows that there’s a pretty obvious difference in build quality. The Leaf also has many features that can’t be optioned on the Versa, such as rear backup camera, solar panel, and heated seats and steering wheel.
When we talk about small EVs as similar to small gas powered vehicles, we validate the assumption that there is a price premium because they are electric. While a gap in cost still exists, that gap accounts for more than just battery-driven technology. Many EVs also have options and features that compare favorably to middle and higher-end vehicles, not entry level cars like the Versa. Let’s not confuse size with quality.
EV owners need to consider the power of frames when talking about their cars. We are doing ourselves, and our cars, a disservice when we fall prey to these frames. Frames such as tax relief have spawned a dysfunctional discussion on taxes for the past 30 years. Let that example and others be a warning to us when engaging the public about EVs.