Detroit paper walks back EVs-costlier-than-gas-cars report

The Detroit Free Press just may have been looking to stir the pot a bit over the weekend with its article on a study’s contrarian finding that driving an electric vehicle (EV) costs more than a standard gas-burning car. What the paper apparently got was a Wagnerian choir of “WTF?” because, on Tuesday, it ran what reads like a back-away-slowly follow-up to the original piece it demurely says “generated debate and inspired reader questions.” 

It’s safe to say the two articles contrasted notably in tone and thrust. Compare just the headlines of “Study compares electric vehicle charge costs vs. gas — and results were surprising,” to the recent “Electric car vs. gas cost: How charging, fuel prices affect comparison.” In a starkly divided US society, it’s safe to say each story and underlying thesis might find interested readers in opposite global warming trenches.

To be fair, The Detroit Free Press merely engaged in the entirely legitimate and oft-featured journalistic practice of examining a counter-intuitive study released by an established voice in a given field – in this case, automotive consultancy Anderson Economic Group. Not all iconoclastic conclusions that arise are wrong, and even those that are can serve to contrast facts in a given debate.

Where the paper arguably erred in its initial story Sunday, however, was shining a single, glaringly bright light – and for the space of 1,300+ words to boot ­– on the Anderson report, bucking conclusions of virtually all other EV vs. Gas studies. Indeed, the story leads with the example of a clearly well-to-do executive finally going electric with an (inevitably?) “Porsche Taycan EV in dark blue,” only to quote the disappointed owner lamenting he’s “not really saving much in terms of charging costs… you may be paying more.”

The name of the woebegone, stuck-with-a-cash-drain EV driver? Patrick Anderson, CEO of East Lansing-based economic consultancy Anderson Economic Group (old school journalists can pause and moan here). Before it’s over, the article features Anderson in two different thumbs-up photos, and features his words as its only quoted material. It all came away as, shall we say, a tad angled.

The follow-up doesn’t disavow the original story but does contain caveats (and redundancies) like Anderson’s EVs-cost-more “study is an outlier. Many studies show the opposite to be true.” It also supplies considerable third-party information substantiating why “the consensus is an EV” costs less to drive.

So how did the Anderson report come away with the opposite (though not by much) conclusion? 

Its introduction says researchers looked under a great many stones for electricity-related costs, “including several that are commonly omitted in other EV studies.” Most of those wind up driving the e-vehicles even deeper into owners’ pockets 

Added expenses the study focuses on range from outlays for buying and installing home chargers, to lost “deadhead miles” driven by owners having to recharge at rare or remote commercial outlets. There’s also the subjective appreciation of what the report describes as “the economic principle of opportunity cost, which recognizes that being required to do one thing means you cannot do others.” For its purposes, that means an EV owner not being able to generate income he or she need their chained-to-the-charger car to do. 

In its follow-up report, The Detroit Free Press contains input from EV owners, most of whom echo the kinds of advantages and lower costs that tend to dominate discussions of the technology (as Electrek’s own staffers have noted). As such, it provides a lot of good statistics, anecdotes, and independent sites that largely support prevailing data indicating EVs are cheaper than gas cars – in addition to the environmental benefits.

Still, just as nobody should dismiss either Detroit Free Press story as hokum for failing to back their own established perceptions or preferences, readers of this story shouldn’t take its rather snarky account as gospel either. Give Anderson’s study a good going-over and decide for yourself.

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