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The award for the reporter who is as confused about plug-in hybrids as the folks he quotes …

By Joe Romm  

"The award for the reporter who is as confused about plug-in hybrids as the folks he quotes …"

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… goes to Mike Musgrove of the Washington P0st for his piece, “As carmakers plug ‘green,’ Washington Auto Show consumers have plenty of questions.”

As evidence of the kind of questions that puzzled consumers have about how plug-in cars work, Musgrove writes:

The unmistakable message is that the day of the electric and hybrid car is at hand. But it’s also clear that there are plenty of questions among the crowd about how this alternatively fueled world is supposed to work.

“What if you’re driving and you don’t have any power left?” asks John Wu, who is checking out the Chevy Volt with some friends. “Won’t you just be stuck there?” The guys make cracks about Volt drivers running low on juice and pulling up to a stranger’s house, begging for access to an outlet.

Funny stuff — if you were writing a piece trying to mock regular people in the vein of the 1980s-era David Letterman.  But in fact there is nothing wrong with regular folks being underinformed about a brand new product — people would come up to me all the time when I first bought the Prius and asked me where you plug it in.

Most people just aren’t that plugged into the latest techno-news.  Why should they be?  There aren’t any for sale yet, after all!

What’s wrong and definitely not funny at all is that the reporter is underinformed — and has actually produced a piece that is only going to further confuse the public.  Rather than correcting the glaring error of the people he quotes, his next sentence is a non sequitur:

Despite the auto industry’s tough times, optimism is still standard equipment.

As everyone who actually gets paid to pay attention to the automobile industry ought to know, the Chevy Volt is not a pure electric.  It is a plug-in hybrid with a gasoline engine designed specifically to run the car when “you don’t have any power left”!

You might think a reporter writing about the Chevy Volt — or any of his editors in the business section — would either know this or spend say 30 seconds online finding out the facts.  Here, for instance, is the Chevy Volt home page, designed specifically to provide answers to puzzled consumers and apparently puzzled journalists:

Introducing Chevrolet Volt

Volt is an electric car that can create its own electricity. Plug it in, let it charge overnight, and it’s ready to run on a pure electric charge for up to 40 miles(3) “” gas and emissions free. After that, Volt keeps going, even if you can’t plug it in. Volt uses a range-extending gas generator that produces enough energy to power it for hundreds of miles on a single tank of gas.

Yes, the point of the whole car is to avoid the problem of pure EVs, which can run out of juice and take a while to recharge.

Two days later, I still see no correction or clarification to the article online.  I guess it’s just another tiny leak in the Titanic disaster that is the WashPost.

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11 Responses to The award for the reporter who is as confused about plug-in hybrids as the folks he quotes …

  1. TomG says:

    The more I hear of this kind of poor reporting leads me to believe that it is deliberate.
    The initial reporting is poor, but when there isn’t any sort of follow up correction or clarification…that makes me suspicious.
    There undoubtably are inept reporters, but for the most part, I think they are merely following “company policy”.
    A policy set by editors following the owner’s demands.

  2. Stephen Watson says:

    “What if you’re driving and you don’t have any power left?” asks John Wu, who is checking out the Chevy Volt with some friends. “Won’t you just be stuck there?”

    Can you imagine someone asking such an asinine question of someone with a petrol only fuelled car?

  3. john atcheson says:

    More proof that the media is the problem. This is nothing less than lazy, irresponsible reporting, and the editorial staff was just as lazy in not making the reporter do his homework. They could have preserved the Lettermanesqe tone they were going for and still informed folks. But that would have required work and knowledge, of which there is a dearth in the MSM

  4. non sequitur
    not non seqitor
    Latin for “it does not follow.”

  5. Jay Turner says:

    I get fairly frequent reminders that most Americans are so absorbed in their own business that they are ill-informed on a wide array of issues. Just because we know how PHEVs and EREVs work doesn’t mean that it’s reached the general public. We’ve got a very big public awareness problem. We need to get the MSM to cover issues like the huge environmental and economic potential of vehicle electrification.

  6. Doug Bostrom says:

    “If I had a Volt”… by my calculations I’d use about 85% less gasoline. We happen to be mostly hydro powered where I live, but even where fossil techniques are used for power generation CO2 ends up as a point source, at least ready for absorption by so far fictitious sequestration.

    Plus, the Volt looks a lot less like the Batmobile now, so I could leave my vinyl cape and tool belt back at stately Bostrom Manor.

  7. Doug Bostrom says:

    Jay Turner says: February 1, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    “We’ve got a very big public awareness problem.”

    Yep. The action is all around social science now. Just like gas molecules, actions and behaviors of individuals are hard to predict but in aggregate we can successfully make some predictions, informed by research. The communications efforts around AGW don’t seem very well informed by communications research findings.

    One drum to begin banging on is, dump or at least harp less on surface temperatures as a proxy indicator of warming, talk more about total ocean-atmosphere heat content. The way our planet functions, surface temperatures are a lousy metric for communications that are actually talking about caloric content of two very different regimes frequently acting in opposing ways on a regional basis, namely the ocean and atmosphere.

    “What’s the temperature right now” is a giant pitfall for public communications.

  8. Jay Alt says:

    of course you don’t see a correction joe. the journalistic code requires that it be made only after the mistake is widely absorbed. and studies show that 50% of those few reading corrections still recall the mistake as fact. So look for it again, next week on page 17H.

  9. PurpleOzone says:

    The Post like the Titanic? Not if you believe the Post. There are simply some people who don’t like the “new Post” because they resist any change.

  10. all hybrid drivers should constantly offer to let folks drive theirs. i’ve had many people quiz me at gas pumps, parking lots, etc–i just toss them the keys and tell them to take it out for a spin so they can prove to themselves it’s not weird. (only problem is my hybrid civic is a standard, and it turns out the ranks of standard drivers are ever smaller)

  11. Richard Brenne says:

    I’ve done the same as Bill (#10), including giving my keys to a stranger when I had four passengers in a Prius and we were going up skiing. I later heard all five had a great time.

    Which reminds me that when I die, I want to go quietly and in my sleep like my grandfather and not screaming wildly like the passengers in the car he was driving at the time.

    I apologize for owing you an e-mail, Bill (as I think I do every reader here) – too much tangential stuff. (If you don’t believe me, read my paragraphs #1 and #2 above, and come to think of it #3.)