It's Electric - or Electrified - Whatever, Just Get It Right

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
it s electric or electrified whatever just get it right

The 2018 North American International Auto Show, aka the Detroit Auto Show, is upon us, and at least one of the new vehicles shown will be electrified. But not necessarily electric.

Yet, journalists, both those who cover the industry and especially those who normally work other beats (such as business or news), will continue to incorrectly conflate the two. Which in turn will give this editor even more gray hairs.

The difference between electric and electrified vehicles is simple. Electric vehicles, otherwise known as “pure” EVs, are vehicles solely powered by electricity. Electrified vehicles, by contrast, are powered in part by electricity. Hybrids are an example of the latter, as are range-extended electrics, mild hybrids, and plug-in hybrids.

Another way to think of it, as a Jaguar PR flack tells Digital Trends, is like rectangles and squares. Squares are always rectangles, but rectangles aren’t always squares. Which means all “pure” EVs are electrified, but not all electrified vehicles are electric vehicles. A more in-depth breakdown can be found here.

“Pure” EVs on the market include all three Tesla models, the Nissan Leaf, and Chevrolet Bolt. Hybrids include the Toyota Prius, while the Chevrolet Volt is an extended-range electric, as is the BMW i3.

Look, I get it. Before my time here at TTAC, I freelanced for our sister site, and I occasionally got the virtual knuckle-wrap for using the wrong term. Now that the correct application has been beaten into my thick skull, I want to make a plea to the rest of the automotive press, along with the business press and the news section – learn the distinction and get it right.

This also goes for politicians – former president Barack Obama got it wrong and inadvertently caused confusion over what he meant when he said he wanted “one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.” He meant “electrified.”

This distinction is important because consumers still don’t seem to understand the various terms related to electrified vehicles, and if the market share of both electrified vehicles and EVs is going to grow, consumer recognition will be part of that. Especially as Tesla continues to be a major part of industry conversations.

It’s also important as a way of parsing automaker announcements concerning future plans. Lots of OEMs claim “percentage X” of their fleet will be “electric” by a given year. That doesn’t mean they’ll be electric vehicles, though – in many cases it means they plan on building more hybrids, or making so-called “mild” hybrid powertrains available on some models. A “mild” hybrid is a hybrid in which an electric motor or motors assists a gas engine with propulsion, but the gas engine remains the primary source.

A prime example of how misuse of terms leads, in part, to poor reporting came earlier this year. Volvo announced it would commit to having all its models be electric or hybrid by 2020. Some outlets breathlessly reported it as Volvo going “all-electric.” Not exactly true, since the hybrid models would still use internal-combustion engines as part of their powertrains. Not to mention that this announcement applied to only new models, and not ones carrying over.

Misreporting basic terms hurts journalistic credibility, obviously, but also does a disservice to consumers. Imagine the Volvo intender who walks into a showroom in 2020, does all the research, and realizes that the “electric” Volvo he or she wanted is actually a mild hybrid. That person won’t be happy to find that only three Volvos will be available as “pure” EVs (plus two Polestars, if plans carry forward as promised).

I make this plea to my colleagues now not just because of what models may be unveiled in Detroit, but because the NAIAS is the auto show that gets the most coverage from the non-automotive press. I’ve stalked the halls at Cobo most years since 2009 or so, and I spot plenty of business writers and news writers mingling with us weirdos who cover cars exclusively. With the possible exception of New York (which is obviously a media-centric city), I’ve never seen a show that’s so spotlighted by other parts of the media. Parts of the media which probably reach more car buyers than most automotive-centric websites.

That’s why this matters. TTAC and AutoGuide and our competitors/compatriots may finally be getting the distinction correct, but if the New York Times, Wall St. Journal, and Washington Post aren’t getting it right in their business and consumer sections, the problem persists and consumers remain confused.

I know it’s easy to conflate these terms, which is why it happens. For the sake of clarity, though, let’s get it right.

Today’s media world is already confusing enough, thanks to an ever-changing and noisy news cycle, a cyclone of chaos dominating the political media thanks to the actions of one particular politician, and partisan outlets outpacing objective mainstream media for attention. Let’s get at least one little thing right in our quest to make better sense of it all.

[Image: Nissan]

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18 of 29 comments
  • Npaladin2000 Npaladin2000 on Jan 12, 2018

    Bottom line - the words are going to mean exactly what the person saying them wants them to mean, until they want them to mean something else. It's an intentional grey/slip area that's useful when goalposts need to be moved later on.

    • See 1 previous
    • Stingray65 Stingray65 on Jan 12, 2018

      You can bet that Volvo absolutely wanted the EV loving media and public policy makers to believe that EVERY Volvo would be 100% battery powered by 2020, otherwise they would have said "battery and gasoline-electric hybrid" or some other clarifying terminology. Until EVs and hybrids become profitable, they are for all intents and purposes nothing but public relations tools to keep politicians from jacking up fuel economy standards even further.

  • Brandloyalty Brandloyalty on Jan 12, 2018

    People ought to be informed there are a lot more hybrids on the roads than they realize because most hybrid models have only a small logo to identify them. And an article exploding the more common myths about hybrids is far past being overdue.

    • See 13 previous
    • Tandoor Tandoor on Jan 13, 2018

      @brandloyalty I think it’s a myth that gas engines are most efficient on the highway. It’s actually where they are the least inefficient. Maybe I’m playing word games here but EVs don’t have a disadvantage on the highway so much as they have a large advantage in stop and go traffic. The energy to overcome drag increases by the cube of velocity so at 70+ it doesn’t matter what your driving, efficiency has gone out the window.

  • FreedMike So it has transited out of existence here...
  • TheEndlessEnigma Self fulfilling prophesy. Ford spends virtually nothing on sales and marketing for the Transit....then scratches their collective heads not understand why it doesn't sell to their assumed objectives. If you do not market the vehicle, it will not sell. Pretty simple to understand really. Ford sure is working hard to make itself a niche automobile company, trucks and SUV's only. But that's OK, Kia/Hyundai/Toyota/Honda and yes even Volkswagen & Nissan are more than happy to sell to those customers Ford is apparently happy to walk away from.
  • NJRide I would think this segment would have a following but I guess not enough of a price difference with larger vans and probably too unrefined to be a sort of minivan alternative
  • Stuki Moi "...until I realize they're just looking for an open spot that doesn't have a hydrant next to it."As if that's some sort of excuse..... It's almost up there with the yahoos who effectively park, blocking a street, to wait for someone who looks like he may be, maybe..., leaving his parking spot at some point in the future.If you need to park; practice drive and dive. Cars have good brakes these days. Keep traffic flowing, come what may. That's the name of efficient driving game. Not all manners of "yes, but I'm like, you know, like...." so that everyone else are stuck behind you.
  • Dukeisduke I don't listen to AM that much, but I still listen. I think it's stupid not to include it in new cars.