Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Anatomy of Hit Piece

Electric cars, like most modern cars, have their share of esoteric problems.

A recent article in the Vancouver Sun revealed quite plainly the prejudices of the author. Electric cars are no damn good, he posits, because the batteries are so expensive and hard to replace.

Of course, you could argue that Internal Combustion cars are no damn good because the engines are so damn expensive and hard to replace.  The twin-turbo, variable valve timing, direct injection, aluminum block V-6 in my pickup truck is a miracle of modern engineering.   That being said, if it fails (say, the timing chain breaks, which has been known to happen on these vehicles - every car has its weak points!) the cost of putting a brand-new engine in it could exceed the resale value, particularity down the road.

And no, if I run it over a rock, rip out the oil pan and then run the engine until it seizes, that is not covered by the warranty.

This is a fact-of-life for any car, however.  Eventually, something expensive breaks and it ain't worth fixing.  In some cars, even having the air bags go off is enough to "scrap" them rather than repair.  And since such an accident would taint the car with a "salvage" title, it is better for the owner to merely get a check and move on with life.  But more about salvage titles later.

Both of the above propositions are "true" in the sense that if a major component on a car fails, it is often "scrapped" or "totaled" or "written off" (not really, as we will see later) rather than being repaired.  The formula is simple: If the repair costs exceed the price of a replacement car (usually used) they cut you a check for the resale value of your car and move on with life.  There is no point in spending $22,000 repairing a $15,000 car (as one insurance company did with one of my BMWs).  Just buy another car - they made a lot of them.

The story, of course, is fishy as hell.  They first claim that the battery pack was "scratched" which necessitated it being replaced.  Then it is said to be dented and then back to "scratched."  The message is clear - these things are so fragile than even a small scratch scraps them!  I suspect the reality is they ran over something (likely a rock, going off-road) and dented the battery pack, which in turn damages the battery cells.  Hence you need a new battery pack.

And no, running into things is not a warranty claim - another misdirection in this article.  If I drive my truck into a wall, it isn't Ford's fault, unless the brakes were faulty.

Then, they go on to quote a husband-and-wife team of  "automotive journalists" who have a YouTube channel (I guess that makes me an "automotive journalist" as well!) who make all sorts of ridiculous arguments as to why electric vehicles are no good.  Once again, credentialism (as thin as it is) raises its ugly head.  These "automotive journalists" said electric cars are bad!  So we have to believe what they say, without investigating their credentials or arguing the thing on its actual merits.

Then there is the language - what Heinlein referred to as "high-index words."  They refer to electric cars as "light-duty vehicles" for some reason - a term which encompasses every vehicle on the road, other than 18-wheelers and the like.  The subtle message is clear:  These are flimsy buggies, little more than glorified golf carts and make no sense whatsoever!   They only make up  3% of the product mix in Canada!

Then why do you feel so threatened by them?

The reality is, this car isn't going to be "scrapped" but most likely a used battery pack from a wrecked car might be installed and the car resold - for a repair price far, far less than what a dealer would charge for the retail price of a battery pack and installation using dealer labor.

The same is true in the IC world.  A car blows an engine and it isn't "scrapped" unless the rest of the car is shot.  The cost of the dealer installing a factory-new engine at retail price and at dealer labor rates might exceed the value of the car.  But someone might buy the car at auction, put in a used or rebuilt engine, and then resell it as a used car - and it may give many more years of good service as a result.

I've seen used battery packs for sale on eBay - for various electric cars.  So they do exist.  And as more electric cars hit the road - and hit other cars and trees and deer - and end up in the junkyard, the supply of used parts will increase.  And as demand is satisfied, the supply of new parts and third-party parts will increase as well.

You can get "knock-off" parts from China for your Toyota Camry, simply because they made so damn many of them.  Parts for more esoteric brands are harder to come by and thus more expensive.  This is why fancy cars are so expensive to repair.  I read a posting online recently where a mechanic did a work-around on a Rolls Royce by repairing the steering column "clock spring" (a coil of flat-printed wire used to connect the steering wheel buttons to the rest of the car) by taking apart a BMW one and then re-working it.  The Rolls dealer wanted $2500 for the part!  Kind of scary when BMW parts are seen as the cheaper alternative!

But the same is true of electric cars - as only a fraction of the overall fleet of cars on the road, they are still "exotics" and parts are harder to come by and more expensive.  This is not a function of them being electric, but being rare - for the time being.  Then again, it is something to think about before buying an electric car.  It is like the cheap "buggies" sold at Lowes.  Great price, great features - but can I get replacement parts for it?  Or do I have to throw the whole thing away when the control board is fried?

And that is one reason I am not rushing out to buy an electric car.  Early adopters have to have a high threshold of pain.  And part of that pain is seeing the "me too!" people jump in years later and do the same thing for half the cost - after you have blazed the trail.

So why is the Vancouver Sun dinging electric vehicles?  Well, it has to do with demographics of Western Canada, which are not dissimilar from Northwestern United States.  That is to say, while Seattle is "Liberal" and urban, much of Eastern Washington State is anything but.  Similarly, BC, outside of Vancouver, can be pretty conservative. And don't get me started on Alberta and Saskatchewan!  Canada makes its living exporting raw materials, which in turn, props up the welfare state.  It is like Alaska, where oil money results in residents getting paid instead of paying taxes.  And with that big oil sands project going on.... well, electric cars are seen as a threat - to their way of life.

So, they write this piece claiming electric cars are no damn good and never will be. But only an idiot would read this and think it was an impartial piece of journalism and not a hit piece on electric cars.

Of course, this could all change if a major lithium deposit is found in BC! Then the Vancouver Sun would call them the wave of the future!  Makes about as much sense as the Ithaca paper that promoted coal and said wind power would hurt the environment.  Yes, they actually said that, in liberal Ithaca!

Maybe money changes hands, I dunno.