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Electric Vehicles

The Absolute Absurdity of the ‘Woke Electric Cars’ Insult

Elon Musk’s cars are woke now?

Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

If you ever get the sudden, inexplicable urge to give yourself a headache, try searching for “woke electric cars” or “woke electric vehicles.” Whether your preferred flavor of headache involves articles, YouTube videos, or just memes, you’re in for an endless sea of anti-EV screeds — often fueled by misinformation or outright disinformation — on social media or on right-leaning news outlets.

Their arguments usually go something like this: EVs are “a tool of tyranny” being “forced” on us as the government takes away our precious gas cars; they run out of power too easily and will leave you stranded at the first sign of bad weather; they’ll leave the U.S. in permanent thrall to China, or kill our auto industry outright; and they’re worse for the environment than internal combustion engines, and thus aren’t going to fix climate change — which isn’t real anyway. (I think that about sums it up.)

I never see this sort of “content” coming from people with a deep understanding of the evolution of automotive technology, or batteries, or anything else that might qualify them to weigh in here. Usually, they’re from your garden-variety opinion-section cranks, or cynical grifters who make a living off their viral hits, or 40-year veterans of oil industry comms. You know the type. But they’re all very vocal in saying that electric cars, essentially, are woke. And while none of them can define what that means, it is clearly very bad.

The sentiment is spreading into our wider consciousness now, and that goes for the whole world, as The Guardian pointed out recently. Here in America, look no further than our presidential race to find examples. Former President Donald Trump — despite having once touted an electric-car startup as a savior of jobs in the Midwest — has railed against EVs as something that will “decimate” auto manufacturing states like Michigan. And amid the rallies he holds in between his various court dates, he’s taken to delivering rants like this one, about a “friend” who needed “two hours” to charge an electric car on a road trip.

Trump’s knowledge of the workings of the auto industry is suspect on a good day. But as goes Trump, so goes the rest of the field. Republican candidates like Vivek Ramaswamy and Nikki Haley have lashed out against EVs in similar ways. This summer, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed a Republican-sponsored bill back home designed to save the state $277 million by adding EVs to government fleets. DeSantis went this route, as many critics pointed out, really only after Trump stepped up his anti-EV rhetoric; last year the governor was happy to award nearly $70 million to secure fleets of electric transit buses in his state.

DeSantis must have seen the way the wind is blowing on the right, and it’s toward making sure EVs are portrayed as rolling symbols of a failing Biden administration. That’s part of it, for at least some conservatives; but another part is a general disdain of anything seen as “green,” or the continued perception that EVs are just golf cars, unlike manly, macho, V8-powered cars. (That argument also doesn’t hold up when an electric Kia can hang with a Lamborghini in a drag race.) Either way, cars that run on electrons have become embroiled in our never-ending culture wars, and that will only get worse as this election cycle continues.

But there are countless reasons that framing the auto industry’s gradual move to EVs as a cultural issue simply doesn’t hold up:

EVs are just technology, nothing more. An evolution in how cars work, in line with the same trajectory gasoline cars took for decades: more powerful, more efficient, more high-tech. And yes, those moves often followed stricter fuel economy and emissions regulations here and abroad. But most car companies now are global entities; to compete, they have to offer the newest and best or they’ll be left behind. You might even call it the free market at work and right now, the market is speaking: Though many buyers are currently deterred by the high price of this new technology, this year is still on track to be a record one for EV sales as more and more car companies offer new options.

If EVs are woke, then so is electronic fuel injection, forced induction, airbags, power steering … how back in time do we need to go until the cars aren’t woke? Hand-crank starters? The Model T?

America has always subsidized or protected its car industry. Many Republican politicians are angry about the EV tax credit scheme. But while EV tax credits on the consumer side feel relatively new, that’s not the case with the industry writ large. Think about federal and state tax incentives to build car factories. Or how uniquely protectionist tax rules allowed huge (and profitable) American trucks to dominate the market. Or subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. Or even Reagan-era limits on exports from Japan, which just led them to build cars here. Or the bailouts amid the Great Recession.

I could go on and on, but generally speaking, a competitive auto industry is so essential to a country’s economy that its government will go to great lengths to see it succeed. America’s no different, and neither are tax incentives that get people to buy EVs.

Jobs, jobs, jobs. The goal of many investments from Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act is to build an electric car and battery manufacturing infrastructure here in America, so we’re not wholly dependent on China for it. And guess what? Nearly all of the battery plants being built to support this effort are in Southern red states. Georgia, Kentucky, South, and North Carolina and Tennessee are just some of the states that stand to gain tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs. They’re going there for proximity reasons, to support their nearby automakers like Toyota, BMW, Volvo, Nissan and more, but also because those aren’t exactly union-friendly places — an issue the United Auto Workers is not happy about. Seems like all of this would benefit a conservative politician from any of those places, no?

People are not being “forced” into anything. As I’ve written before, the move to a more battery-driven auto industry seems very likely, but it will not be as up-and-to-the-right as many predicted a year ago. It’ll be a rocky, messy, uneven shift that occurs in some countries and even U.S. states ahead of others; that may not be the best thing for our climate but it is reality. In the meantime, no one is being “forced” into this. California and other states may ban the sale of gas cars by the middle of the next decade, but a lot can happen between now and then and all signs point to the market shifting electric by then anyway. Nor have I seen any legislation that would force people to give up their existing cars, which likely would be impossible.

I’m from Texas. You go down there and try telling those people they have to “give up” their F-150s and Silverados. You’d have better luck telling them you’re there to take their guns away; at least they’re used to hearing that. But more and more, as charging grows and U.S.-built batteries drive costs down, hopefully, people will see the benefits of going electric all on their own.

Elon Musk. And here’s probably the ultimate counter-argument to the idea that EVs will wreck your life as much as drag bingo, DEI training at the office, and the other things the TV told you to be very mad about. The modern EV market was catapulted to success by a Texas-based billionaire entrepreneur — the richest man on Earth— who has declared war on the Woke Mind Virus. Say what you want about Musk, and you could say a lot, but Tesla is a genuine American success story. It’s grown from a startup to a global juggernaut with a market cap exceeding that of every other carmaker, all without selling a single gasoline car.

And remember, DeSantis can denounce EVs all he wants, but he still needed Musk and Twitter to announce his candidacy. That’s a pretty inconvenient fact for the anti-EV culture warriors out there.

The truth is, there are valid concerns to be discussed as the auto industry moves away from gasoline; many of them policy-related. Things like the environmental impact of mining, or the labor battle involving EVs that’s playing out in Detroit right now. But that’s not what we’re getting here, with the screeds over electric wokeness — and they just don’t hold up to even a moment of critical thinking.

Naturally, I don’t think the right-wing war on electric cars is going anywhere anytime soon. But ultimately, it may just not matter. The industry’s going to go where it’s going to go in order to compete globally, and all the memes in the world won’t be able to stand in the way of that.

Yellow

Patrick George

Patrick is a writer and editor in New York. The former Editor-in-Chief of Jalopnik and Editorial Director of The Drive, he covers the future of transportation. Read More

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