Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEVs)

Written By Nick Hodge

Posted December 16, 2009

John Stossel has become the latest fearmonger at Fox News.

His journalistic debut there focused on "Free Golf Carts." But in the face of Fox News‘ tradition of being "Fair and Balanced," the vehicles in question actually turn out to be neither free nor golf carts.

Let’s poke John’s report to see what hackneyed tactics he’s using to bash the government and progressive energy ideas that would actually help most of his ill-informed viewers.

Stossel Trades Lies for Ratings

Stossel is now the newest member of the Fox News team, having left ABC after a long run with 20/20. Apparently, viewers of Fox more readily accept steadfast resistance to progress passed off as news.

At any rate, his big inaugural piece at the network focused on government (he refers to them as "venal cretins" — but that’s a news term, right?) tax credits for neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs).

Of course, it wasn’t an in-depth, detailed report on the pros and cons of offering people incentives to buy electric vehicles. Instead, his report was more a personal tea party against "free golf carts."

Here’s the first line of Stossel’s take on the matter: "After money from the "stimulus" bill was spent on destroying perfectly good cars and building an Airport for Nobody, the WSJ reports that government has found an even more ridiculous way to spend your money: free golf carts."

Do you see what he does there? Quotations around the word "stimulus" serve to dismiss the effort that many economists now say helped pull us out of the Great Recession.

And regarding his line about "destroying perfectly good cars:" those cars weren’t "perfectly good," were they?

They had been traded in for more efficient models, and their destruction ensured the tax credit wasn’t for naught. Oh yeah, and the automakers hailed that idea as great for business.

Then there’s the "more ridiculous way to spend your money" line.

Where were these headlines when the Minerals Management Service was doling out billion-dollar land leases to oil companies that had furnished them with cocaine and sex under the Bush administration?

That’s a ridiculous way to spend money, not offering tax breaks for the adoption of clean vehicles.

But this is the stuff that’s broadcast as news every single day.

All Headline, No Substance

Of course, Stossel’s piece was all for shock value. He was even quoted as saying, "It’s my first show on Fox Business, and I had to go big."

You don’t "go big" when you’re a journalist. You report the news.

But we are talking about the same news organization that ran a 12-page pictorial last week featuring "Celebrities Who Go Bra-Free."

(By the way, my colleague Chris Nelder did a good job explaining why such large herds of people chew this cud every single day in last Friday’s Energy & Capital.)

What I’m getting at here is that Stossel’s diatribe was all about the headline, so some Joe Shmoe could tell a few buddies about big gummit’s latest crazy idea. Pure propaganda in the form of a headline.

All Stossel need do is close the report with some subjective vitriol about how stupid this idea is and the herd is hooked. He went with a generic Foxism, saying the "government shouldn’t be in the business of taking money and giving it back. That just gives the venal cretins more power over our lives."

He completely disregards any benefits the NEVs and the associated tax breaks have to offer.

Let’s see what happens when a journalist with more than a speck of integrity reports on the same story…

The Un-Fox Version of NEVs

I remember reading an article in Wired back in September that showed the not-so-scary side of NEVs. Listen to how terrible this sounds:

It’s a brutally hot morning here at the Villages, one of the biggest retirement communities on the planet. But the saunalike central Florida weather doesn’t slow down the 77,000 seniors who call this place home.

On the nine softball fields around the development, smack-talking eightysomethings try to leg out a base hit. Graceful swimmers slice through the water in glittering pools. Near the Bait Shop bar in one of the immaculate town squares, line dancers shimmy in unison.

Villagers play hard. And they drive… well, they drive kinda slow. Because the ride of choice at the Villages isn’t a Lincoln or a Cadillac.

You guessed it… it’s a neighborhood electric vehicle. And the seniors in the community love them.

Just in this one community — there are many more in Florida and elsewhere — there are 87 miles of trails that can only be traveled in an NEV. The trails even take residents right to the doorstep of major chains like Target, Staples, Starbucks, and Wal-Mart.

The entire community is centered around the NEVs. And they help not only to gives hundreds of thousands of seniors a happy and active retirement, but also to perpetuate the American dichotomy of consumerism and community.

It’s no wonder the use of NEVs — and the amount of communities centered around them — are on the rise.

Oh, and by the way, Wired reports that "The US government’s recent stimulus package offers NEV buyers a $2,500 tax credit (a third to half the cost of the vehicle)."

Stossel’s "Free Golf Carts" are based on dealership incentive schemes.

Wired takes a different approach to the conclusion than Stossel’s "venal cretins" route:

The Villages embodies what environmentalists have been waiting decades for – a glossy future powered by electric vehicles.

But the lesson of the Villages isn’t just about the vehicles we’re driving-it’s about where we’re driving them. The future of transportation should be focused on the quick jaunts that make up most of our day-to-day driving.

The Villages is for people who’ve lived long enough to know that what they want now is a warm breeze in a quiet, open ride-going fast enough to hit both the golf course and the Walmart in the same afternoon but slow enough to take in the scenery along the way.

As my octogenarian opponent deftly whacks the pickleball past my reach, I look up to catch a glimpse of the future on the horizon. It’s a gray-haired guy with a backward cap, cruising in his cart past a brand-new community center. A golden retriever stands on the passenger seat, tail wagging, and an American flag is displayed proudly right where the gas tank should be.

You can decide for yourself by reading Stossel’s article here and the Wired piece here.

But it shouldn’t be hard to conclude that a tax break for buying a vehicle with no emissions, one that is mostly used by seniors, and one that helps create a sense of community while fostering American consumerism isn’t a bad idea.

The green future is here. You can, like Stossel, whine and stomp your feet. Or you can embrace it, leverage it to save money on your utility and transportation bills, encourage it to create a prosperous and energy-secure America, and perhaps maybe even make a little profit for yourself.

Doing the latter is the opposite of venal. It’s doing the right things for the right reasons.

Call it like you see it,

Nick Hodge


P.S. I know not all of you will agree my view of this situation, but I just wanted to point out the absurdity of Stossel’s journalistic approach, namely the blatant polarization of cleantech issues for no other reason than to solidify the base of Fox viewers. But if you do agree, I hope you’ll pass this along to friends and colleagues that might also find it informative. I look forward to your comments.

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