This live event occurred on September 28, 2021 as part of Generation180’s event series celebrating National Drive Electric Week.
Not only are electric vehicles fun to drive and good for the environment, but they’re also fun to read, write, and hear about. So how do electric vehicles drive media interest? How has electric vehicle media coverage changed over time? Check out the live conversation we had with reporters from Automotive News, Forbes.com, and Grist:
Kay Campbell: Hello, everyone, and welcome to Generation180’s National Drive Electric Week event, the Evolution of EVs in the media. I’m Kay Campbell. I’m Director of Media Relations for Generation180, and I’ll be your host for today’s event. Today, we are joined by 3 esteemed panelists: our moderator, Selika Josiah Talbott, from American University, Energy and Environment reporter Maria Gallucci, and Audrey LaForest with Automotive News. And I’d also like to say a special thank you to our team members working behind the scenes to help support this event. But before we get started, I want to tell you briefly about Generation180. Next slide, please.
We are a national nonprofit based in Charlottesville, Virginia, working to inspire and equip individuals to take action on clean energy. Next slide, please. Here’s a quick look at Generation180’s, three major focus areas of work. We’re working to flip the energy script, helping to move us from a narrative focused on climate doom and gloom to a story of where we need to go. A world powered by 100% clean energy. A story that says we can do this and we all have a role to play. We focus on individuals and the actions they can take in their homes and communities. Because your energy matters, certain behaviors and technologies not only help to fight climate change, but they also help to build the social momentum and political will. We need to get to big systems-level changes. We lead two major nationwide campaigns: Solar For All Schools and Electrify Your Ride, which works to make EVs more accessible. Solar and EVs are clean energy solutions proven to address two of the largest sources of carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation and transportation.
Next slide, please. So a few quick housekeeping items before we get started. All attendees will remain on mute throughout the event. And please use the Q&A to submit your questions. Feel free to submit those throughout the event, and we will get to as many of your questions as we can over the next hour. Now, without further ado, let’s hear from our moderator and our guests Selika. Do you want to kick us off and introduce yourself?
The ‘Going Electric’ pledge:
“I want to help accelerate the transition to 100% clean energy. I pledge to make the next vehicle I purchase an electric car.”
Selika Josiah Talbott: Sure thank you and good morning, everyone. I appreciate the introduction, Kay. Welcome, as she said to our panel on the evolution of EVs in the media. Essentially, the role that the media plays with respect to electric vehicles. My name is Selika Josiah Talbott, I’m a professorial lecturer at American University and the founder of a company that strategize on new mobility research, write and lecture on equity and transportation. And I’m passionate about how I believe New mobility can transform our planet, autonomous electric connected shared. These are all buzzwords in the industry, but as we’ve heard so often these last few years, the media does play a significant role in society when it comes to the dissemination of information, but they are importantly serving also as a scrutinize or watchdog. They can filter information to bring us the most relevant and salient points and present a story. They often play a large-sized role in directing the focus of society at large. And when we look at technology’s influence on the media, we can certainly say from the advent of radio to broadcast television services and then the internet, the way we get our information, the speed in which the information is provided and how often we receive that information has all transformed over the last century worldwide. And incomes now, this disruptive technology, a new way of thinking where we are concerned about environmental and social implications. And now the birth of an electric vehicle movement. Of course, the media should play a very large role in this space. Of course, the media would help to usher in a daily conversation about how electric vehicles can change our lives. And of course, they provide a clear understanding of what’s at stake, what it will cost and who will be impacted. As my mantra goes, transportation is mobility and mobility is freedom. Electric vehicles will certainly be a part essential part of the future of transportation globally, how we get there and ensuring that all are able to take this journey, I believe, is also a media responsibility. And to that end, I am pleased to present our panelists and ask them to provide a brief introduction of themselves, starting with Maria Gallucci. Maria.
Maria Gallucci: Thank you, and thank you for that introduction. Yeah, my name is Maria Gallucci. I am a freelance reporter. I’m a regular contributor for Grist and Tripoli Spectrum and other publications. And I read a lot about clean energy development in general, but electric transportation as well. And I’m really interested in stories that focus on the technology aspects of the exciting innovation, but also sort of the real world implications in terms of reducing emissions, reducing air pollution and how these sorts of technologies roll out in real communities.
ST: Thank you, Maria. Audrey.
Audrey LaForest: Hi everyone, I am Audrey LaForest, I’m the Washington, D.C., reporter for Automotive News, where I cover auto policy, regulation, and pretty much anything auto and government related going on. I was based in Detroit initially because of the pandemic, but happy to say that I’m officially in Washington, DC as of June of this year.
ST: Glad you could be here! I’ll start with you, Maria. When did you first start covering electric vehicles in your work? Certainly what was your impression of EVs back then?
MG: Sure, so I really started focusing or covering EVs in 2011, that’s when I started at inside climate news. And focused a lot on what’s interesting. I was reading back on some of the stories that I wrote. Then in preparation for this panel and a lot of the same issues I wrote about, then we’re still discussing today building up charging infrastructure. Vehicle to grid pilots or systems that use the batteries in electric vehicles to connect to the grid for storage and other services. My impression at the time, I think I thought it was a really novel kind of maybe a little bit out there technology. And certainly I was aware of earlier efforts to develop electric vehicles. So this wasn’t the first go around, but it just at the time, it was a much smaller portion of the transportation picture. I think in 2011, there were about 15,000 all electric passenger EVs on the roads, and now there’s more than a million. So that was sort kind of an indication of how much it’s grown just in the amount of time I’ve been covering it. The sector? Well, we certainly have seen a tremendous amount of growth. Audrey, when did you first start covering evs? And also, I guess the same question for you, what was your impression back then? Yeah so I had an interesting introduction to the EV world, so I started covering parts of the EV industry and whatnot in 2017, when I was writing for plastics news, which is another crane communications publication. So I was focused more so on the auto suppliers plastics injection molders, kind of making the parts that would go into the vehicles. So in around that time, really, the conversation was about materials that would eventually go into those vehicles and what some of the auto suppliers were doing in terms of battery covers and lightweighting making the vehicles lighter since the battery packs are heavy. But when I would attend auto conferences, the conversation was still EVs are coming, but you know, maybe there’s still a ways off. You know, we still have all of these challenges to figure out. And I think the interesting now is the conversation has really shifted to EVs are definitely coming. Like we’ve got automakers and government aligned in saying that the future is electric. So it’s really I think for me, it seems like it’s really sped up. It certainly has, and I think that that’s a big piece of it. We had companies who were sort of fighting the EV movement back then and now, as you said. The manufacturers and government are sort of hand in hand moving us to this, to this new world where we’re going to have to see ice go away and this will be the predominant vehicles on the road. Or what component of this EV transition do you cover the most in your work? I know that there’s areas that are environmental, climate related, policy, education. What’s what’s your niche? Yeah, so for me, as the Washington reporter, policy is definitely the top priority for me. So basically, I’m looking at everything that’s going on primarily at the federal level to either support or slow a transition to electric vehicles since a lot of our readers at automotive news are part of the auto industry, including dealers. So I’m looking at what a lot of the automotive trade associations are doing, what they’re lobbying for, what policies they support or what policies they might oppose, and basically how including how dealers will be affected by what’s going on in Washington. So I try to give our readers really an inside look into everything going on Capitol Hill that might trickle down to the state level. And I guess these days, there’s a lot going on Capitol Hill when it comes to infrastructure.
ST: Oh Yes. Never a dull moment. Exactly Maria, do you have a particular niche also in the EV area? Is it climate, environmental policy technology with your space?
MG: I kind of. I cover a broad range of EV related issues, but lately a lot of the work I’ve been doing for grist, which is focused on climate justice and solutions. So I’ve been writing stories that look at the transition to electrified transportation from an equity line. So who are the communities? Where are EV Chargers being installed? Who can access them electric buses? How does that help increase access to electrified transportation or the shift toward heavy duty freight trucks, other kinds of electric vehicles? How does that improve air quality in vulnerable disadvantaged communities and kind of expand the benefits of an electric car beyond just the individual level? So, yeah, focusing more recently on equity, the sort of equity lens. But also I’ve written about the technology components, sort of the cutting edge research into the actual drive trains and things like that themselves.
ST: OK and, you know, I think that’s a good point. We spend a lot of time really concentrating on the passenger vehicle, but we see regulation and laws across the country now that are also impacting freight. And so we have to think about these trucks and buses, whether they be school buses or motor coach buses, and how they will be impacted by the shift to electric vehicles. Given that you’re each covering sort of different part of the EV reporting space, is there something that you find your readers to be most interested in when it comes to this area? So I’ll take the question to both of you.
AL: I think for the automotive news readers, they’re definitely interested in what’s going on in Washington, especially right now, just because, you know, President Biden has been pretty clear that some of his centerpiece policy issues are centered on the climate, and EVs are a big part of that. And I know one of the things that has stirred up a lot of automakers and other groups in the industry is on the EV tax credits. What the house proposed, as well as what has been proposed in the Senate in terms of the Union bonus that the EVs would get. And as I’m sure you guys know, not all automakers here in the US operate unionized factories. So yeah, it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out as the reconciliation bill. Is it reaches the House floor. And then what happens in the Senate ultimately, so that’s definitely top of mind for our readers, I think.
ST: Maria, what about your readers?
MG: Sure, so I think that folks who read my story might be interested in learning about how the infrastructure technology is rolling out in their communities, or maybe sort of what does this news mean for me in my community beyond just sort of announcements and things like that? What’s actually being built? How can I access it? Not so much service journalism per say, but kind of even just talking with my friends when they ask me what I’m working on. They’re really intrigued by it. OK, well, what could that look like here in my neighborhood?
ST: So, you know, in this new technology-based world, we have an opportunity to gauge the kind of interactions our readers have with us when we have a publication. So if we write something, we can see that this is getting a significant amount of engagement on Twitter or in some other social media space. Is there a particular topic that you either one of you write on and I’ll start with you, Maria. That seems to get the most audience engagement with respect to electric vehicles.
MG: That’s a good question, I don’t I don’t as a freelancer, I actually don’t see the numbers too much, but I do know that battery related stories get a lot of interest, so kind of from the technology standpoint. And there’s as EVs become more prevalent, there’s a lot more conversation about the materials used to make these batteries. Supply chain issues that are disrupting battery production. How do we recycle them? What does it mean? What is what is the pollution impact of creating a world of batteries? So I think that that’s something that sort of beyond the EV itself, folks are really interested in learning about.
ST: And Audrey, are you seeing some metrics in terms of what gets the most engagement?
AL: Yeah, I mean, I think right now it’s hard for any story, right, to really gain more audience eyes other than the chip shortage has been probably primarily the most popular of stories that we write about that has the most reader engagement, which I’ll tie that to the electric vehicles because it’s a supply chain issue. And so, you know, automakers, including the government, are trying to figure out how to build a domestic EV supply chain here, especially with the raw materials and batteries. And that’s a big challenge. And we’re kind of seeing what can happen when there’s a pandemic or something else unforeseen that disrupts the global supply chain for the necessary items that automakers and others rely on. So I think supply chain stories are definitely the biggest ones that get the most reader engagement right now.
ST: OK so you both have been in space where you’ve been reporting on electric vehicles for some time now during that period of time. Have you seen a change in the audience who’s following you, who’s interested in these discussions? Who’s participating? So I’ll start with you, Maria.
AL: OK, I’ll just go ahead. I think for our readership, it’s like I said our readers are in the auto industry primarily, but I think what we’ve maybe seen is that there’s other stakeholders that are interested in what we’re reporting on now since we do have such a close eye on the auto industry. So there might be maybe some more people from different policy areas or various think tanks and things like that. I think maybe our audience or our readership has extended to those areas a little bit.
ST: Maria, have you seen a change in your audience?
MG: Yeah let’s say generally that maybe what once felt like sort of a specialized or niche topic now feels more general and that there are folks who are concerned about or even just interested in clean energy development and sustainability issues who are kind of engaging with electric vehicle. Related stories. Whereas maybe before it would be the people who are geeking out over the latest Tesla developments or something like that.
ST: And I think I also find that the conversation is now being had in places you least suspect the grocery store line, you know, grandma at the dinner table. More and more people are getting interested in the notion of an electric vehicle world. I want to. Turn to how media coverage of electric vehicles has changed. You know, Maria, you mentioned when you were first covering the industry, there were about 15,000 EVs on the road and today we have more than a million. How has media coverage changed in that time? Sort of in a totality not looking at you necessarily specifically, but what do you see as changes that have taken place?
MG: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think that in general, the media, especially reporting on technology, trying to strike a balance between being excited about a new development and being skeptical about something or potentially even critical about it. And I think maybe when I first started reporting on electric vehicles, there was definitely a greater amount of skepticism because really we hadn’t seen the development that we’ve seen today. And so and it’s not always clear if promises and projects are going to pan out. So I think now the tone maybe is a little bit. This is sort of a Audrey was saying earlier to not will it happen, but it is happening the transition to electric vehicles. So and there’s still skepticism and criticism, but it’s maybe about what the transition looks like versus we will it even happen? Can we even do it?
ST: Audrey, are you seeing those kinds of changes as well?
AL: Yeah, I certainly agree. I mean, when I was covering auto suppliers in the plastics industry, they were starting to think about, OK, how do we get involved in the EV market? How can we maybe integrate some parts of what’s needed in electric vehicles into what we offer, what we make to? Whereas now, at least from a supplier standpoint, you’re seeing maybe companies actually making moves in terms of acquisitions or merging with other bigger suppliers that already have a piece of the EV pie. And I think really, from the media perspective, it’s really accelerated. And like Maria had said too, it’s. It’s not in a question of if, it’s a question of maybe how soon does this big transition really happen to where consumers aren’t really asking the question, is this a vehicle? Is this vehicle electric? It just it is electric or fuel cell? And I think from the automakers standpoint, I mean, the industry it’s been reported by 2025 will invest over $300 billion in electrification. You see that in the product that’s coming down the pipeline. Ford just yesterday had the announcement with sk innovation, their battery supplier that they’re investing $11 billion in to make electric vehicles and batteries in Kentucky and Tennessee. So I mean. That I mean, that is something that Ford has said is their single. Their largest manufacturing investment to date, so it’s definitely shifted the conversation a lot, I think. I think it’s changing.
ST: I agree with that. We’ve seen a real move of who was getting involved in the discussion and what we’re discussing. And like anything else that we’re talking about these days, we have to mention the pandemic because it’s all around us. And an impacting almost every facet of our lives. Have you seen any impact to electric vehicle coverage as a result of the pandemic? I’m not sure, Audrey, you know, as you’re dealing with manufacturers, and we did mention that the chip shortage and in some are certainly laying that at the feet of the pandemic. But are there other changes in EV coverage that you can say are related to the pandemic?
AL: I mean, other than the chip shortage, I mean, the chip shortage has had the biggest impact for sure, just because automakers have had to figure out how to what, like what, where to cut production or halt production, how to build certain vehicles without the chips kind of planning around that. But other pandemic related impacts on EVs or EV coverage, I’m not sure. Maybe I could. Just given that for over a year, we weren’t all able to really meet or talk or discuss things like business related, of course, to like we were used to. Maybe that kind of delayed some decision making or planning, but nothing that nothing that I’ve noticed or that I can think of right now.
ST: All right, Maria, are you seeing impacts to the EV coverage as a result of the pandemic?
MG: Well, I think certainly at the start of the pandemic in spring 2020, when we were in the United states, seeing sort of the initial lockdowns and fewer cars, drastically fewer cars were on the roads and we noticed, oh, this is what it’s like when you don’t have a bunch of tailpipes spewing pollution that there was, at least in my own coverage, sort of more of an emphasis on the air quality benefits of eliminating gasoline and diesel combustion and thinking about that from a passenger vehicle standpoint. But certainly the potential benefits of switching heavy duty transportation buses, school buses, et cetera, to batteries or fuel cells. So I think that it’s sort of really illustrated in a very visceral way what it looks like when the roads are cleaner. And I’ve been thinking about that, even myself, I live near a highway and it makes me think about, oh, wasn’t that time was nice when it was kind of quiet. Now it’s noisy again.
ST: I think we’re on the roads now almost more than we were beforehand because of the use of our personal cars. Audrey how have the current, I should say, the change in administration? What could you say is the difference in the coverage now that we have a President Biden administration and their views on electric vehicles?
AL: Yeah, so I started out as the Washington reporter for automotive news in February 2020 20, so kind of right before we all started working from home. And I got the tail end of the Trump administration covering what they were doing. And, you know, primarily at that time, the main focus was usmca, trade tariffs and other actions obviously related to figuring out how to address the pandemic and whatnot. And a lot of those actions did impact the auto industry as well. But you didn’t hear you didn’t really hear that much from President former President Trump about electric vehicles. Some might say that he wasn’t the biggest fan of EVS, but under the Biden administration, from the automotive viewpoint, it has definitely his focus has really been about the climate goals cutting greenhouse gas emissions and EVs are absolutely a huge part of that. And you, you see it and you hear it and you read it from the administration all the time. I mean, electric vehicles are in. I won’t say all of the president’s executive orders that he’s issued since his inauguration, but they’re in a lot of them when I do a word search scanning them. They pop up quite a bit. And even from a congressional standpoint, there you see Congress talking a lot more about electric vehicles and things like that and infrastructure more so than under the Trump administration, I think.
ST: I want to turn to a topic that near and dear to my heart, is the issue of equity. And Maria, I’m going to direct this question first to you from a national perspective. Have you seen a change in the conversation when it comes to having these be more accessible or affordable? From an equity standpoint.
MG: I think so, and certainly just speaking for myself and my own coverage, I think the conversation has shifted from not just sort of the, you know, these early adopter types who have the resources financially and knowledge to adopt these views and more about how can we increase access to electric vehicle charging infrastructure? Yeah so I think there’s been a shift in not just about who can access EVs and how, but also what does a more equitable transportation system look like as a whole, not just replacing internal combustion engines for batteries but creating networks. As you said, sort of mobility is freedom. So connecting people to bus stops and subway stations and sort of the I think there’s an appreciation for the need to look at transportation more holistically as well.
ST: Now, I like the idea. One of the things that I talk about is a transportation network in the future. So instead of looking at transportation in silos, the opportunity to look at it really very globally. So that you can get people from point A to point b, and it could include a variety of modes of transportation, whether it’s on foot, on an electric bicycle or an electric vehicle or an electric bus. I want to ask you. To that end, about what I see is EV trends or developments. Are there any EV trends or developments that have kind of surprised you or caught you off guard? I’ll start with Audrey. You know, what kind of changes have you seen or trends that surprised you in this industry?
AL: I’m not I’m not sure about anything that’s surprised me, per say, I think really any trend or news that comes out that helps close the gap on battery range and access to public charging is interesting just because those are really stepping stones for potentially getting more consumers to consider buying any of it kind of ties into the equity equity, affordable accessibility conversation that you had spoken to Maria about. Because if you think about consumers in rural areas, I think a lot of people are still wondering, well, what does this mean for me? Or this doesn’t affect me? I don’t understand why there’s so much focus on this because they’re just. You know, they don’t have access to charging infrastructure the way that areas closer to bigger cities might, and that’s definitely that’s an access to charging infrastructure for sure. Is is a big challenge. And so I’m looking forward to seeing how that trend develops down the road.
ST: Maria, is there something that you can say with an EV trend or development that may have surprised you or something you’re looking forward to?
MG: Yeah, I think one thing that surprised me, or I guess maybe I was really interested to learn that was happening was sort of the rapid growth of electric bus adoption globally because in the US it’s there is some and some cities are adopting buses. It’s certainly more so now in recent years. But worldwide, China, of course, being sort of the top EV market, but also in Latin America, African cities, we’re seeing a lot of electric bus adoptions. And so that was really interesting to me too, because being based in the US writing about US clean energy development, sometimes I tend to think about things through that lens, but it’s happening globally. And there are different challenges to rolling out electrified transportation. Different kind of climate conditions. And different access to ExaGrid Infrastructure and resources. So I think just sort of learning that it’s not, it’s happening worldwide and it has sort of it’s a different story everywhere you look.
ST: That’s a good point. And I guess I want to. I want to kind of develop that area that you just talked about a little bit, I’ll ask Maria this question and move to Audrey as well. Do you see distinct differences in the coverage of electric vehicles in the United States versus maybe certain parts of the world or specific nations around the world?
MG: I think that well, I guess the sort of overgeneralize, I think in general with clean energy policies and EV development as well in other countries, it’s not so controversial. It’s sort of this is something that’s interesting and that’s happening, whereas here it’s sort of maybe it’s more politicized in a way that than it is in other countries.
ST: Audrey, what do you have an opinion on? Are there differences in other countries or other specific regions of the world when it comes to evs?
AL: Yeah, I mean, I really agree with what Maria said, that maybe it’s a little bit more politicized here. And I think we can see that in some of the conversations that are coming out because of actions that the Biden administration is pursuing. And just from the automaker announcements as well. I think also maybe it points to the US and the lack of. Reliable public transportation here. You know, it’s. I’m from metro Detroit, so it’s, you know, Detroit’s a big city, but everyone has a personal vehicle. We are a driving city to where, yes, people do use the buses there, but it’s there. It’s if you have to get to your job or an appointment, you’re better off driving yourself there. There have been some improvements improvements with that. But you know, I think it’s just, yeah, I think in other countries, public transportation is just it’s just something that you do. It’s there and it’s reliable and here it’s a challenge.
ST: Maria, what do you see as your role as a journalist, as we have this transition to clean energy in terms of how it relates to electric vehicle adoption?
MG: I see my role as really, I guess it sounds basic, but giving people information, maybe answering questions that they have. As I was saying in my friends and kind of my personal life, it’s people are starting to talk more about electric cars and they’re curious. And so as a journalist, I think it’s my role is to kind of look at what’s going on, where are the interesting pilot projects, where the interesting technology developments and policies, investments to expand infrastructure, et cetera? But then what are the challenges and why hasn’t why haven’t EVs been adopted more widely, more quickly? What could hold them back? So kind of giving them the full context, I think, not just hyping it or sort of being swinging too far in the other direction with skepticism, but sort of showing them what’s happening, what’s possible and how to get there.
ST: OK and Audrey, I guess I’ll ask you the same question. Do you see yourself having a specific role when it comes to EV adoption?
AL: Yeah, I think just being here in Washington, d