CNN changed a headline about EV sales from a success story to a failure

On February 25, CNN published a piece on electric vehicles outlining the reasons that sales, which are trending upward and reached record levels in 2023, are not as high as analysts once predicted they’d be. The next day, a new headline appeared above the article that radically altered the main takeaway of the story without any new information added.

Here are the two headlines that appeared on February 25 and 26:

Image of two different headlines on the same article

Why did CNN change “No, electric vehicle sales aren’t dropping” to “How EVs became such a massive disappointment”?

The article describes an emerging industry responding to new challenges. The original headline, “No, electric vehicle sales aren’t dropping. Here’s what’s really going on,” aptly characterized the moment this technology is in: Sales of electric vehicles are still climbing, even as the auto industry experiences and responds to growing pains.  

The following day a new headline accompanied the piece that radically changed its tone: “How EVs became such a massive disappointment.” To support the negative new framing, CNN added a line to the piece saying “But the EV market has nevertheless become a major disappointment.” The change recharacterized the main findings — that while some automakers are currently scaling back production, EV sales are “up 40% from the same quarter a year before” and “hit a record last year” — to emphasize the “disappointment” arising from the mismatch of expectations and reality.

And while a note on the changed article reads, “This story and its headline have been updated to reflect context about EV sales expectations,” no new information or data was added to the article that would support a different conclusion.  

No, EV’s are not a massive disappointment. Here’s what’s really going on.

The article does a fair job assessing the challenges currently facing the EV industry,  “including vehicle price, lack of charging capacity and confusing tax credit rules,” and discussing why, despite strong sales, the industry is lowering future estimates.

But for each one of these challenges, which are consistent with the speed bumps that inevitably come with the development of new industries and products, the article also details the proactive ways the industry is responding.

Regarding the challenge of vehicle pricing, CNN points out that “most electric vehicles currently on sale in America are on the more expensive side of the automotive market.” The article then addresses the industry’s response, describing how automakers are cutting prices to move current EV models and working to make future models less expensive.

The article describes “continued lack of public charging” as another challenge, while laying out the ways industry is responding to it:

Automakers are finally taking major steps to do something about that, tapping into newly available federal funds, plus their own money, to install more chargers.

BMW, GM, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, and Stellantis have come together to create a joint venture that plans to install about 30,000 chargers across the United States and Canada.

Also, to make things simpler for drivers, every major automaker in the US has agreed to switch over to the same charging standard used by Tesla, still the largest seller of EVs. That means that, in a few years, almost all EVs sold in America will have the same type of charging port and use the same type of charger.

CNN also acknowledges that confusion around tax credit rules is contributing to lower sales estimates. The article then explains how the industry is adapting in order to simplify the process for consumers, allowing more people to take advantage of credits that offset the cost of new electric vehicles.

The reality and response from the industry never suggest that EVs have become a massive disappointment, and it is unclear why CNN decided to characterize them this way after the article was published.

The altered headline was a gift to climate deniers looking to obscure the benefits of EVs

On X (formerly Twitter), some bad faith actors, including climate deniers Marc Morano and Steve Milloy, weaponized the new “massive disappointment” headline to bolster their attacks on Biden’s climate proposal to transition to electric vehicles.

Steve Milloy & Marc Morano tweet about CNN piece

The transition to EV’s is a key pillar of the Biden administration's plan to combat the climate crisis, as the transportation sector is one of the largest contributors of climate change-causing pollution.  But the benefits of the technology don't end there. While upfront costs for EVs are currently higher than for gas-powered cars, they are often cheaper when comparing costs over the course of the vehicles’ lifespans. Furthermore, the production costs of EVs continue to fall, and in the next decade EVs are expected to become cheaper to produce than gas cars. 

In addition to long-term financial savings, EVs offer health benefits, as well. Reporting on an Environmental Protection Agency proposal that supports EV growth, The Detroit News noted that by 2055, the proposed rules would “remove nearly 10 billion tons of carbon emissions … reducing fine particulate matter in the air that can have negative health effects and potentially saving up to $1.6 trillion.” Indeed, one recent study estimated that up to 20,000 people in the U.S. die each year due to “transportation air pollution.”

Finally, a transition to EV's would make drivers less vulnerable to high gas prices and the whims of the global oil market. Reporting on the EPA proposal, MarketWatch noted that it “would strengthen American energy security by reducing reliance on 20 billion barrels of imported oil.”