By on February 1, 2021

GMC

As we wrote last week, General Motors “aspires” to go all-EV by 2035. We noted that was a goal and that they might not make it.

As John Voelcker at The Drive points out, some mainstream media outlets missed that distinction.

(Full disclosure: I once freelanced for a company that employed John, and he’s edited some of my past work. I’ve also been to his house. So it’s safe to say we know each other a bit).

Voelcker points to The New York Times and TechCrunch as examples, and the NYT headline is especially wrong – it claims that GM will only sell EVs by 2035, as if it’s a given the General will reach its goal.

The Times story then leads off with an assertion that the days of the internal-combustion engine are numbered – before ending the article with an admission that the ICE will likely be around a while no matter if GM meets its goal or not.

To be fair to the Times, the actual story is more nuanced – and as far as I can tell, accurate – than the headline suggests. And the actual body makes it clear that this is a “vision” by GM and it’s no certainty that the company will achieve its goal.

I suspect the headline was written by a copy editor who doesn’t know much about cars and maybe didn’t give the story a super-close read in the rush to meet deadline. This happens sometimes, especially at big papers – the headline isn’t written by the story author, and a harried copy editor gets it close but not exactly correct.

Certainly, Neal Boudette, who has a co-byline on the piece, probably knows better. I don’t know Neal, but he covers the auto industry and I’ve read his stuff before and not noticed any factual issues. Coral Davenport, the other author, seems to come from an energy and environmental policy background, with a focus on climate. Three other reporters get credit at the piece’s end.

This isn’t to pick on the Times. As I said, the actual article generally tackles the topic with nuance. But as Voelcker points out, mainstream outlets often get the auto industry wrong. See also CNN learning something about Tesla most auto journalists have known for quite some time.

This isn’t because the mainstream media is “fake news” or “biased” or “the enemy of the people.” Nope, it’s simple – the auto industry is complex, many general-assignment and business reporters don’t know much about cars and the industry, and the pressure to turn stories quickly doesn’t always give journalists time to properly learn a new topic.

In other words, well-meaning journalists who are just scratching the surface of a topic might get some things wrong inadvertently. They don’t even know what they don’t know.

Take coronavirus coverage for example. Some general-assignment reporters who probably barely passed their science classes have learned quickly how to accurately cover the virus while also translating science into layman’s terms. Others, maybe not so much.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t trust the mainstream media – in general, you should – but it does mean that reading as many different reliable sources as possible is better, and reading work by those who’ve made science their beat might be more informative when it comes to the coronavirus, and possibly more accurate.

Same goes for cars. There’s no reason not to trust the NYT or Washington Post or Wall Street Journal’s business or general news reporters when it comes to autos, but one should keep in mind that some reporters might be dealing with a topic that’s unfamiliar to them.

There are, of course, business reporters who get the industry right. One way to suss these folks out is to click their bios and see if they’ve covered the industry or have autos/transportation as a beat. Those who tackle the topic often are usually more likely to get it right.

Voelcker goes on in his article to detail the challenges that GM faces in achieving its goal, and how GM itself seemed to flip from backing the Trump administration on lowering fuel-economy standards to touting EV goals as soon as Joe Biden won the presidency and started floating policy goals that could push the industry in the direction of EVs. The old “stick your finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing” trick.

We touched on some of those challenges in our news story, but not in-depth – that’s possibly worth a separate post, although we’ve talked in general about the challenges to EV adoption plenty in the past.

I did possibly get one thing wrong – the GM announcement does not appear to cover heavy-duty trucks, which I said it did. GM only said “light-duty vehicles”. Which excludes heavy-duty trucks and means that if those trucks remain as popular as they are now, they could still be using thirsty gasoline and (slightly less thirsty) diesel engines in 2035. GM gave itself some cover there. I missed that in the press release. Mea culpa.

The larger point is, GM made major news with its announcement Thursday – news that wasn’t relegated to the autos or business sections. And some outlets reported a goal as a given.

Don’t let an (understandable) lack of institutional knowledge among reporters who don’t often cover cars confuse you. GM has set an ambitious goal. It may reach it, it may not (my personal opinion – it will get partway there, though how far I am not sure), but it’s not a given that the company will be all EV in less than 15 years.

#Harshwritingadvice was trending on Twitter over the weekend. Let me give some polite advice to any business or general-assignment reporters who get assigned a story on an automaker’s promises – remember that they are just that.

Promises are often broken. Journalists of all stripes should especially know that. And the car business is not exempt.

[Image: GM]

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26 Comments on “On GM, EVs, and Getting It Right...”


  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Good summary.

    I wonder if GM’s decision was partially driven by the bean counters. I don’t know exactly how the carbon credit scam works, but I imagine the cost of non-compliance will continue to rise.

    GM isn’t new to EVs, but perhaps their projections showed billions of dollars going to Tesla and VW if they didn’t ramp up their EV portfolio.

    Even Dodge is talking vaguely about electrification of some sort, while maintaining the brutish performance of their cars.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      The Dodge discussion was interesting for two reasons:

      1. They didn’t put an altruistic spin on things. Although they did state they would build high-performance BEVs, the only reason they’ll be doing it is for government compliance. I’ve seen similar resignation from McLaren and Aston Martin as well.

      2. There must be at least some plan in place for the Dodge brand to have future products rather than to just be shuttered in 2025.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        In the case of McLaren, Aston Martin, Dodge etc. The reality is that ICE engines can’t compete with electric for performance and that’s what these companies are allegedly trying to market. Look at their V-12’s that need overhaul at 60k miles. An aftermarket Model 3 performance has taken some track records from the McLaren F1. A Model s Plaid+ will totally leave a Dodge Demon in the dust on the dragstrip. What until individual 4 wheel control torque vectoring makes it beyond Rimac. Try competing with that on the track. I think all of the “Tesla destroys Demon/McClaren/Aston Martin” youtube videos are a bigger factor than government regs.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          Dodge is still selling plenty of Hellcats and 392s even with Teslas concurrently existing. McLaren has said their issue with BEVs is consistent/long-term track performance, not just hot lap times.

          I also think you’re discounting the impact of drivewheels/traction when talking about BEV vs ICE. What’s the fastest RWD BEV?

          • 0 avatar
            Flipper35

            If it were a 20 minute track session the 392 would get more laps in than a BEV at the moment.

            Sometimes it is about fun all day and not all out acceleration. Some people still like to shift for themselves or drive a Miata instead of a 9 second 1/4 mile car.

  • avatar
    jack4x

    “Same goes for cars. There’s no reason not to trust the NYT or Washington Post or Wall Street Journal’s business or general news reporters when it comes to autos, but one should keep in mind that some reporters might be dealing with a topic that’s unfamiliar to them.”

    I agree with this, but then why so many political pieces on a car site?

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      Any time we cover politics, it ties in, in one way or another, with the auto industry. Most of our political coverage focuses on regulatory issues that directly affect the auto industry.

  • avatar
    Nick

    I hate to sound sorry but in light of recent reports (including videos) of new Corvettes (57 miles new) ingesting valves I’d encourage them to stick to their knitting.

  • avatar
    Dan

    Those poor, well meaning amateurs at the NYT. No agendas there. Just inadvertent errors in the rush to meet deadline.

    Please. Open your eyes.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Why would anyone think the Ministry of Truth has an agenda?

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      Dan is a very smart individual.

      From the NYT article (third paragraph, right up front for those who skim the news):
      “The announcement is likely to put pressure on automakers around the world to make similar commitments. It could also embolden President Biden and other elected officials to push for even more aggressive policies to fight climate change. Leaders could point to G.M.’s decision as evidence that even big businesses have decided that it is time for the world to begin to transition away from fossil fuels that have powered the global economy for more than a century.”

      Growing up, my friend’s dad was a deep thinker – the kind of guy who went to the library once a week and actually finished non-fiction books. He once launched into a criticism of our local two-bit newspaper because they editorialized in a front-page story. Something like ‘If you want to write an editorial, write an editorial and call it an editorial – don’t combine it with a news story.’ This “guideline” went away a long time ago.

      2021 New York Times methodology: Take the story and turn it into what you would *like* it to mean and run with that (refer to quote above).

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        The juxtaposition between what gm announced last week with what they are introducing tonight is enough to give you whiplash. I wonder if any journalists will bother to bring up the apparent contradiction?

      • 0 avatar
        Tim Healey

        That paragraph strikes me more as analysis — “here’s what could happen and why” than editorializing. I think editorializing has become a misunderstood/misused term in recent months.

    • 0 avatar
      Rick T.

      “There’s no reason not to trust the NYT or Washington Post or Wall Street Journal’s business or general news reporters when it comes to autos, but one should keep in mind that some reporters might be dealing with a topic that’s unfamiliar to them.”
      —————-
      This makes no logical sense as a reason to trust the reporting. And to think there is no agenda to reporting these days is naive at best.

      • 0 avatar
        Tim Healey

        What I meant is that reporting from these sites is generally reliable, but perhaps not as reliable as compared to a niche site.

        So you can trust these folks, but they might be more likely to get certain things wrong compared to say, Car and Driver. It’s not a trust/don’t trust binary — it’s a spectrum.

        Call me naive, but I really do believe most MSM news reporting is agenda-free, based on my limited interactions with the MSM.

  • avatar
    Oberkanone

    Aspire is a Ford.

  • avatar
    Oberkanone

    GM
    27.9% market share in 2000.

    Estimate less than 17% market share in 2020.

    What will GM’s market share be in 2035?

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I’m surprised its still 17%, would have thought less.

      • 0 avatar
        3SpeedAutomatic

        I’ll give Mary credit for her “long term” strategy at GM:
        a) crash course on EVs which can be leveraged in two large markets (NA and China)
        b) hack off the limbs (Europa, India, etc) which consume resources with no return
        c) keep pumping the cash cows (trucks & SUVs) to fund item “a” above
        d) joint ventures in autonomous driving to conserve cash
        e) Scuttling surplus capacity to conserve resources.

        The above could not have been achieved with GM at 50% market (1970’s) or 25% market (2000’s). Too large, too bureaucratic, too cumbersome, too many entranced groups puling in too many directions.

        The big question is can Mary excommunicate the bad practices of GM of the past with slip shot engineering (Vega, diesel V8, X-cars, etc). Mary will only have one bite of the apple. If executed incorrectly, GM will end up like Chrysler (PSA-FCA). Ford could end up as the sole “American” manufacturer.

  • avatar
    Boxerman

    GN has noticed what Tesla is worth, along with faraday and rivian. Their anouncement a stock market tech gambit to raise share prices. Its all about intent.

    So far no one not even tesla is making money on BEVs and thats before we get into development costs.

    Cool that Gm is going to be building a 100+k electric truck, how big a market is that.
    Wheres the charging infrastructure, wheres the generating capacity, wheres the profit.

    Lets face it so far BEvs are a creature of legislation, but its also a fact the legislation exists and will continue to push in that direction.

    I well remember the electric car mandate in california 25 years ago, manufactuers dumped billion in before event he state had to back off.

    For sure bev tech has come a long way since then. But its also not at the point now or in the immediate forseebale future where the entire fleet can be bev or even transition to that in short time frame.

    Were still going to need power generation and distribution upgrades, were going to need charging infrastructure(every town and rest stop has one or more statiosn now), and probably solid state batteries with real range.

    Concurrently the enviromental aspect of mining of battery materials and their disposal will have to be comprehensively adressed. Thats all not going to happen on the necessary scale in 14 years.

    The future fleets will be mixed bev hybrid and even pure ice.

    As for performance, 90+% of buyers dont use the full performance of their vehicles now, they want reasonable payments on something that gets them where theyre going. The 30% uplift for a BEV on a premium vehicle is not goign to make them fast sellers to the greater market.

    As for performance. On road you sue maybe 20% of the power of a vehcile. On track its close on 100% all the time. A tesla can do one fast lap of a moderate track, after that its tires are ,melting due to weight and its going into limp modes to save the batteries.

    Kudos to tesla they have built he first really useable or desireable electric car, for a price. Possibly BEV trucks will do well because batteries are heavy and need space which works with a pickup, as long as you dotn eed to tow cause batteries cant hack that.

    BEVs will continue to evolve and grow market share, but its still a long way to go and 2030 let lone 2035 is not that far away.

  • avatar
    SoCalMikester

    i always use my cars full performance. with a 1.5l and 5 speed manual you kinda haveta.

  • avatar

    Let ne tell you what I think: NYT is a pure garbage, does not worth even the paper it is printed on. I think that whatever GM declares, in the Future all EV skate boards with batteries and powerplants will be made by dozen of Taiwanese companies and so called “automakers” will come up with body and unique design.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    GM is a relative flyweight in the battle of the heavies in the world automotive manufacturing sector. So their announcement is hardly causing the world to reel in amazement.

    That said, the cluelessness of regular news outlets on automotive matters has been a constant for decades. When Volvo a couple of years ago said that all their vehicles would be at least hybrid electric by 2025, the press said they were going all EV. The average dough-head MSM writer just does not understand the difference, nor care.

    Based on that lack of knowledge on something I know something about, as do many here, I pay no attention to their pronouncements on other “news”. Likely just as off-base and poorly understood by the writers. So much easier to just rewrite press releases without having any real understanding of the subject, and getting things wrong without even understanding why. Or caring.

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