Marketing of Electric Vehicles

Okay, I admit it.  Electric vehicles present an enticing field, and are worth every penny of research and development funding.  There is, however, at least one thing that really bothers me, specifically the marketing of these vehicles.  I am willing to accept that advertisers are in the business of deception, intentionally pulling the wool over consumers’ eyes (I don’t have to like it, though).  When I see a commercial that effectively encourages people to push their heads in the sand, though, I have a big problem.

While there have been a couple of ad campaigns over the past couple years that have prompted me to think in this way, the most recent one takes “ridiculous” to a new level.  Actually it’s rather clever, and if it wasn’t for the reveal as a car ad I would be rather impressed.  This particular ad shows people using every-day electronic and electrical tools and devices, but has them all powered by gasoline (read: fossil fuels).  That’s right.  Gas-powered alarm clocks, toasters, cell phones, dental drills.  Then we see a gentleman fuelling his hybrid vehicle, while a fully-electric vehicle quietly drives off.  (I’m not as interested by the brands here as I am in the implications, but the hybrid shown is a Chevy Volt, and the electric car is a Nissan LEAF.  Chevrolet is understandably unimpressed by this spot.)

The spot (you can watch it here) seems to imply that, by owning and driving a 100% electric vehicle, you are not participating in the carbon economy, at least as far as your vehicle is concerned.  Of course, this could not be further from the truth.  Every aspect of the vehicles existence and life-span is touched by the dusty, oily finger of carbon.  Design, development, manufacture (collectively: production); transport and delivery; fuel; maintenance and repair; and disposal.  This will be the case until we have an economy and infrastructure that is not based on fossil fuels.  Of course, people don’t like to be reminded of these matters.  Especially the people with the power.

How do you fuel an electric car?

A simple schematic of a coal-fired power plant. (GEOS 24705, University of Chicago)

It seems to me that people have in their heads that electricity is free and readily available, created by some magical creature.  While it is often readily available, it is by no means free.  Nor is it necessarily “clean.”  Therefore, people don’t really think of electric power as a fuel.

So how do we get this electric fuel?  In North America, electricity is generated primarily by burning coal.  Coal is carbon, and produces a fair amount of energy on burning.  Of course, coal contains other ingredients such as sulphur and nitrogen, so burning one kilogram of coal yields around 700 kcal (2.9 MJ) rather than the 12,000 kcal (50.2 MJ) of pure carbon.  The nitrogen is often released as gas or as NO2, while sulphur transforms to SO2 (an acid rain gas).

Yes, there is electricity generated at hydro dams (more in BC and Central Canada than in Alberta) and nuclear reactors (Central Canada), but all of those facilities and infrastructure was built using coal and fossil fuels.  The same goes for solar power, but that is a whole other story.  The point is that the majority of electricity available in North America is generated by coal combustion.

Disingenuous…

As I said before, my main problem with this particular ad is the implication that electric vehicles are at least partly removed from the carbon economy.  This sort of disingenuous messaging is dangerous.  People already tend to take electric power for granted.  I am guilty of this as well.  However, this particular message has the effect of perpetuating this habit.  Indeed, it is possible that electric vehicles in general could have that effect, since the energy source is far removed from the fuelling point.  Of course, it seems the auto industry relies on disingenuous advertising, and on people conveniently “forgetting” certain important facts, to sell its wares.

About these ads

2 responses to this post.

  1. Agreed, people tend to ignore the fact that moving to electric vehicles is just shifting the problem, it doesn’t solve the problem. If everybody who owns a car now drove an electric vehicle, we would have a major crises on hand because we wouldn’t be able to meet the demand without ramping up new nuclear power plants, coal plants, hydro dams, etc.

    Not to mention the fact that electric cars don’t solve some of the biggest issues with gas-powered cars: traffic congestion and health issues related to sedentary lifestyles.

    • Too true. I was listening to the radio the other day and it was noted that people are essentially sheep, not doing the thinking for themselves. Rather, most seem content to accept what Industry says about its product and not think critically about the implications of said product on health, environment, safety, etc.

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