Electric Vehicles — Why All the Hate?

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It’s a stone-cold fact that electric vehicle sales are booming. From China to the USA, Italy to the UK, EVs are seeing record market shares. No serious commentator thinks the trend is slowing, and our favourite manufacturer is throwing all their resources into an electric future.

And along with this has come a backlash that is sometimes furious. We’re not talking about the legitimate concerns around mass EV adoption – we mean a real visceral anger.

As an example, take this  Daily Express item about the rise in popularity of electric cars in the UK. It’s a solid, well-researched article, citing surveys by Bridgestone (67% want to swap to EVs in the near-future) and the SMMT’s figures (EV sales rose by 41% from April 2020 to 2021). There’s plenty of other data and quotes in there too. Yet in the comments section, this straightforward bit of reporting was met with irate denunciation. One commentator writes:

This is fake news, I’ve never heard such bunkum. I’m awaiting delivery of a new car and it’s not electric and I only have one friend who has one and he’s always complaining of the down side.

Others called the article, ‘tosh’, ‘propaganda’, and a ‘headline meant to brainwash people.’

Online ranting is one thing, but others are taking their EV resentment much further. Across the USA, Teslas are a target for vandalism. The same thing happens in Canada, a country famed for its niceness and toleration. Deliberate ICEing (the blocking of electric charge points) regularly occurs in the US and UK.

On the surface, all of this is puzzling. Why should anyone care whether you power your car with electrons or hydrocarbons? Isn’t it just a personal preference?

Ah, but the EV revolution is much more than that. It’s all mixed up in a culture war that’s splitting societies like an axe.

The EV stereotype

The original plan for this article was to dissect all the separate reasons why people might resent electric cars. Something like: (a) they’re for rich folks (b) they’re destroying our ways of motoring (c) they’re bought by liberals. But using the Express comments as a barometer, we realised that was impossible. Because for some, EVs represent a mixture of every current trend they dislike. Take this comment:

Yet more fake news from the Looney Lefty Woke DE pushing the Green Buffoons net zero garbage

Distilled into one sentence, we’ve got resentment of:

  • The left wing, ‘controlling the media’ with false narratives.
  • Woke culture.
  • The green movement.
  • Government policy and law.

So the EV becomes a convenient symbol of everything wrong with modern life. And for the vandalisers and deliberate ICEers, an EV owner — especially a Tesla owner — is one of those people responsible for all those ills. For these folks, the Tesla owner is stereotyped as an affluent, urban liberal; a smug, condescending elitist who lords it over ordinary people; an eco-hypocrite who hectors everyone else about their cars whilst jetting off on long-haul holidays. They are the out-of-touch rich who want to ban cheap fossil fuel vehicles that Joe Public depends upon. And so on.

It’s sometimes been suggested that some early Tesla-adopters did nothing to dispel this image. Did their promotion of EVs come across as preaching; their enthusiasm for Elon Musk as fanboyism? Or is all this just victim-blaming?

Social media fans the flames

Added to all this is the immense pot-stirring ability of social media. Most of us know how this works: you watch a YouTube clip or like a Facebook post and the algorithm kicks in, ensuring you’re sent more of the same. Soon, you’re in an echo chamber where the only opinions you ever get are other people who think like you do. Except it’s worse than that, because content creators are rewarded with more eyeballs for more extreme, click-baity material. Before long, two neighbours, or even two people in the same house, can be living in parallel universes.

If you started off with a suspicion about the merits of EVs, social media encourages to think that your Tesla-driving neighbour is a democracy-subverting communist. Meanwhile, social media is persuading your neighbour that you’re a knuckle-dragging fascist, funded by the oil industry. If you think this is an exaggeration, try hanging around on a few forums and comment sections. Then go for a long walk to clear out all that poison.

It’s just a phase

If all this sounds too depressing for words, the consolation is that it’s just an adolescent phase we’re going through. EVs are popping up everywhere, and though they are still pricey, increasingly it’s the Bloke Down the Road who is starting to buy them. Before long, the EV stereotype will be a footnote in history, and we can all look for some other tribal symbol to rally round.

And just to prove that there’s nothing new under the sun, we’ll finish with another rant on new modes of transport. It was written in 1899.

The notion that electric vehicles, or vehicles of any other kind, will be able to compete with railroad trains for long-distance traffic is visionary to the point of lunacy. The fool who hatched out this latest motor canard was conscience-stricken enough to add that the whole matter was still in an exceedingly hazy state. But, if it ever emerges from the nebulous state, it will be in a world where natural laws are all turned topsy-turvy, and time and space are no more. Were it not for the surprising persistence of this delusion, the yarn would not be worthy of notice.

Well, that didn’t age well, and neither will today’s EV resentment.

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