Hype-brids: Networks Tout Green Vehicles but Americans Buy 4 Times as Many SUVs
If news outlets were fueled by bias, then ABC, CBS, and NBC would be Hummers.
Over the past two years, the media have declared Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) “dying” while celebrating the popularity of hybrid cars. Americans disagree. Data from Edmunds.com showed SUV market share has grown or remained stable whereas hybrid market share has declined. In July 2010 alone, SUVs outsold hybrids 4 to one.
When gas prices were high in summer 2008, the media eagerly reported the demise of the SUV and wrote its epitaph, as CBS News’s Hattie Kauffman eloquently did on May 26, 2008:
“Here lies the mighty sport utility vehicle, once a symbol of status and power, now collecting dust.”
From July 2009 to July 2010, total SUV sales increased by 38.9 percent whereas hybrid sales have decreased by 32.7 percent. Large SUV sales alone have increased by nearly 40 percent.
Yet back in 2008, the three networks all paid their respects to the “dying” SUV, with ABC’s Chris Cuomo jumping on the hybrid bandwagon before the SUV’s body was even cold:
“Everybody’s trying to sell their SUV, want to get into one of these new jobs, you know, the smart car, the hybrid, the high-mileage type vehicles, all these alternative cars.”
The “everybody” Cuomo mentioned must only have included the hybrid owners and not the SUV owners.
That year, Cuomo’s ABC colleague David Muir predicted a green upheaval as he erroneously reported on the SUV’s demise.
“American carmakers are looking for a revolution, too. The gas guzzlers so popular yesterday are no longer popular today,” said Muir in his July 20, 2008 report.
The SUV was decidedly not dead, but to the networks, it may as well have been. Despite the overwhelming SUV sales numbers, the Business and Media Institute discovered that since June 2008, the networks’ covered hybrid cars three to one over SUVs. Specifically, there were more stories about the Toyota Prius (37) than on the top 5 best-selling SUVs combined (24).
So “gas guzzlers” thrive while the media guzzle the liberal Kool Aid. In May 2008, the first month of high gas prices, hybrid models had 2.52 percent market share. The hybrid model market share in May 2010, two years into the “revolution:” 2.52 percent.
Those numbers didn’t stop CBS News’s Anthony Mason from ushering in the “electric era” on the April 1, 2010 CBS Evening News:
“Well, it’s a real challenge, but Katie, we are at the dawn of the electric era.”
Volt and Prius: A Media Love Story
Despite pedestrian sales numbers and recalls, reporters at the big three networks continue channeling their inner Billy Mays and turn their segments into infomercials for eco-friendly cars.
The media’s favorite green cars have been the new Chevy Volt and the Toyota Prius. The networks aired nearly twice as many Volt stories (42) as they aired on the top five selling SUV’s combined (24).
The Prius has established itself as an environmental symbol thanks to the media hyping its popularity with the liberal
Perhaps, but it’s a “household name” that’s being outsold three to one by a “gas guzzler.”
The Chevy Volt, a plug-in electric car expected to hit the market in November, has also been popular with the media. Both NBC “Today” host Matt Lauer and CBS News reporter Anthony Mason took test rides in the Volt, with Lauer being the first non-GM person to actually drive it. Additionally, all three networks hyped the Volt in their coverage of the 2009 and 2010 Detroit International Auto Shows, nearly two years before the Volt was even expected to hit the market.
Recently, some in the media were outraged when GM announced the Volt would be priced at $41,000. Of course, when challenged about the price in a July 29 press conference, Ron Bloom, Obama’s senior advisor to the treasury secretary for automobiles, distanced the government from GM.
“We do not tell GM what to charge for cars,” said Bloom. “Most kinds of new technology are expensive.”
Unlike batteries, which require positive and negative charges to work, the government only operates on positive charges, such as the positives touted by Obama in his July 30 visit to Michigan.
The Obama Administration found plenty of positive charge in the network news reports, as all three networks praised Obama’s July 30 visit to GM where he test rode the Volt. ABC’s Karen Travers called it a “victory lap” and NBC’s Savannah Guthrie echoed Obama’s remarks that the “American auto industry [is] resurrected from the dead.”
Since summer 2008, only ABC and NBC interviewed analysts skeptical of the green car business model. NBC’s Phil LeBeau interviewed Standard and Poor Equity analyst Efraim Levy on May 6, 2009 where Levy noted smaller, green cars would result in smaller profits but larger losses:
“Smaller cars have smaller price tags. So, therefore, you have less room to make the profits, and if a car’s not successful, the losses are even more painful.”
Case in point: the 1997 GM EV1, which was named one of Time magazine’s ‘Worst Cars of All Time.’ The EV1, GM’s first attempt at an electric car, flopped due to disappointing battery power and a lack of demand. The EV1 retailed at $34,000, cost GM $80,000 per vehicle, and ultimately GM lost $2 billion on the EV1 program.
Instead of the SUV, the GM EV1 is now the vehicle “collecting dust.”
Cart Before the Horse
On April 1, 2010, the big three network news broadcasts fooled their viewers with their reports on fuel emission standards.
The ABC, CBS, and NBC evening news shows each aired stories about the new fuel emissions standards. The new standards were based on the 2007 Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) rules and championed by the Obama Administration.
According to the new standards, by model year 2016 all cars and light trucks must average 35.5 miles per gallon.
ABC and CBS sandwiched their reports between stories on -- you guessed it --
“But reaching that new efficiency level does come with a price, an estimated $52 million for car manufacturers to be paid by the consumer. About $1,000 per car may be added on to the sticker price.”
Rather than pursuing the added cost, Cowen encouraged viewers to buy a green car because it will save them money in the long run:
“Now, Brian, although these new cars will cost a little bit more, the government says that will be more than offset by your savings in fuel, they’re saying about $3,000 over the course of that new environmentally-friendly vehicle.”
Cowen’s report was misleading. A 2006 study by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine discovered that of the top seven hybrids, only the Prius will save you money over five years compared to a non-hybrid vehicle. According to the study, three out of the seven hybrids will cost you over $3,000 more, the number the government claims you’ll save.
Myron Ebell, director of energy and global warming policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free market think tank, told the Business and Media Institute he thinks the new fuel emission standards will lead to more dire consequences than just hitting consumers’ pockets.
“I think automakers will go bankrupt again,” said Ebell. “In order to meet the new standards, big cars will become expensive and they’re going to have to sell a lot of small cars.
Ebell added that the 2007 CAFE standards “foreshadowed” the auto bailouts and that the bailouts have turned Chrysler and GM into “creatures of the Obama Administration.’
“The automakers are in worse shape than had they gone into bankruptcy,” Ebell said. “Bankruptcy would have broken the worst part of the union contract and they [GM and Chrysler] wouldn’t have to answer to the government.”
Only ABC News interviewed anyone challenging the government’s boat-without-a-paddle auto policy and its relation to energy standards. On January 11, 2009 ABC’s Brianna Golodryga interviewed Jean Jennings, Editor-In-Chief of Automobile magazine:
“The government is on the wrong track because they are dictating fuel economy without an energy policy,”
Yet the networks won’t challenge the Obama Administration’s fuel emission demands for the auto industry. Ironically, for three networks that won’t cover SUV’s, they’ve become SUV’s for Obama’s auto plan: Steadily Urging Victory.
End of the Road
In “Home Improvement,” Tim “The Tool Man”
With SUV’s alive and well, the network news shows remain committed to promoting green cars and cheerleading the Obama Administration’s auto policies.
According to Michael LaFaive, director of the Morley Fiscal Policy Initiative at The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a free market think tank, Obama’s auto praises are played out in the media like a “Rooseveltian victory lap.”
“There’s no ribbon cutting ceremony for tax cuts like there is for opening a new battery factory,” said LaFaive. “The government has nothing to sell this as a way to stimulate demand.”
The Business and Media Institute examined news stories from ABC, CBS, and NBC from June 1, 2008 through July 15, 2010. June 1, 2008 was selected because it was after Memorial Day and in the thicket of the summer 2008 high gas prices.
The three evening news stories from Friday, July 30, 2010 when Obama visited the Volt assembly plant in
Final numbers included 69 stories on hybrid vehicles and 19 on SUV’s. Based on the June sales from AOL Autos, the top five best selling SUV’s are the Chevy Traverse, Chevy Equinox, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, and Honda CR-V.
Only stories longer than 100 words were counted. Recall stories were excluded because they focused on consumer safety as opposed to the actual cars.
Data was provided courtesy of Edmunds.com, HybridCars.com, The Wall Street Journal Market Data Center, and AOL Autos.