After extreme cold left some Tesla drivers stranded in Chicago, right-wing media spun the story to condemn electric vehicles as a whole, even though many of the drivers interviewed clarified that they were generally satisfied with their cars.
On January 15, some Tesla drivers in Chicago found themselves stuck waiting at charging stations as low temperatures caused batteries to drain more quickly than in warmer temperatures. Compounding the problem, drivers said many public chargers were not working or took longer than usual to charge.
While recent reports of mass strandings seemed to be limited to the Chicago area, right-wing media have seized on the opportunity to amplify bad-faith arguments against electric vehicles as a whole.
The reality is that EVs are popular and efficient in countries with cold climates, particularly in places that have invested in expanding charging infrastructure and where at-home charging has been made more accessible. Additionally, in the U.S., cold weather creates problems for many different forms of transportation, including gas-powered vehicles.
Right-wing media used the incidents to present electric cars as unreliable
- On Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle, climate denier Marc Morano said widespread adoption of EVs would be a “catastrophe” and claimed that the Biden administration is deliberately stranding Americans. Morano said, “Imagine if the Biden administration's wish were reality and gas-powered cars were banned and people could only be driving EVs? You would have a catastrophe on your hands, people stranded everywhere. I would argue this is a feature not a bug. This is part of making travel — freedom of movement — difficult.” [Fox News, The Ingraham Angle, 1/17/24]
- Fox’s Jeanine Pirro falsely claimed that “all the electric cars” in Chicago were “not running” and encouraged viewers to “buy … a gas-fueled car” and “call it a day.” Pirro ended the segment, saying emphatically, “What I can tell you is that in Chicago, all the electric cars are not running because they're freezing stations and can't get the electric cords or whatever they have — chargers — into the cars. So you know what, all this climate nonsense is ridiculous. Buy a gas-charged car — a gas-fueled car — and call it a day.” [Fox News, The Five, 1/17/24]
- Fox News contributor Liz Peek claimed that “nobody told anybody” that electric vehicles have a shorter range in cold weather. “The EV thing’s becoming a joke. We have cars frozen in lots all over the Midwest because when it’s cold, apparently, you can't charge the battery. … Everyone’s worried about the range, and by the way, the range goes down 40% if it’s cold. No one told anybody that.” [Fox Business, Varney & Co., 1/17/24]
- Outkick reporter Mike Gunzelman mocked EV owners for caring about climate change and falsely claimed that lithium batteries “are actually worst for the environment.” It is widely acknowledged that even considering the resources needed to produce lithium batteries, electric cars are less environmentally destructive overall. “But hey, think of all the good you’re doing for the environment! It doesn’t matter that you’re going to for sure get sick in the coming days from being in a cold car for hours at a time,” Gunzelman wrote. He also called the videos of drivers in subfreezing temperatures “hilarious” and concluded that electric vehicles “stink.” [Outkick, 1/17/24; The New York Times, 3/2/21; The Washington Post, 9/19/23]
- On Fox News’ Outnumbered, hosts pushed back on the idea that cold weather also affects gas-powered cars and claimed that people don’t want EVs because of the Biden administration’s push. In response to the argument that gas-fueled cars can also be negatively affected by the cold, co-host Emily Compagno said, “That argument only goes so far. Because the whole point is that the … charging stations are currently what froze, number one, and number two, there’s no way around the charge, then, for the Tesla,” whereas with gas-powered cars, “eventually you get around it and you run the engine.” Co-host Kayleigh McEnany then scoffed at the Biden administration for encouraging use of EVs, “Two-thirds electric [vehicles] by 2032 — keep dreaming buddy. Because the more Biden pushes this, the less people want them.” [Fox News, Outnumbered, 1/16/24]
- Fox host Jesse Watters mocked Tesla owners, saying that “if you bought an electric car, you’re praying for global warming.” “Oh, it’s a Tesla graveyard,” Watters said, “If you bought an electric car, you’re praying for global warming. Now if you want to buy electric, do your thing, I don't care. But know what you are getting yourself into. I like reliability. I know there is a gas station around the bend and I know my car won't turn into an icicle.” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 1/16/24]
- Fox Business' Charlie Gasparino suggested that environmental, social, and corporate governance mandates force auto manufacturers to make vehicles that don’t work. “Right now, the major auto manufacturers are imploring the Biden administration to cut back on some of its decarbonization efforts, which all but force them to build these EVs. … Whether it's diversity, equity, and inclusion producing someone as incompetent as Claudine Gay, or ESG mandates imposed on big auto manufacturers that force them to … essentially manufacture vehicles that don't work well. And, you know, something’s going to have to happen here because these things just don't work when the weather is bad, and they don't work that great when the weather is good.” [Fox News, Your World with Neil Cavuto, 1/16/24; Bloomberg, 3/16/23]
- Fox host Carley Shimkus on Fox & Friends said conditions need to be “perfect” for Teslas to work. “Experts say cold weather can impact charging speeds, saying batteries need to be at optimal temperatures to charge quicker. So everything needs to be perfect, Brian, in order for the car to work,” Shimkus laughed. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 1/16/24]
- On Newsmax, host Chris Plante called electric vehicles “$100,000 speedy golf cart[s].” Marc Lotter, chief communications officer for the right-wing think tank America First Policy Institute, said, “This is yet another reason, though, why people aren’t ready for EVs.” [Newsmax, Chris Plante The Right Squad, 1/16/24]
- The Gateway Pundit’s Cullen Linebarger wrote, “It turns out buying a worthless car to virtue-signal for the environment has unintended consequences.” [Gateway Pundit, 1/16/24]
- On X, Citizen Free Press posted: “Electric Vehicle owners find out the hard way what it means to go electric during Chicago's harsh winter. Can't imagine why the EV market isn't taking off.” [Twitter/X, 1/16/24]
- BlazeTV host Chad Prather posted on X: “Electric Car charging stations are lined with cars with dead batteries. Thank you all for going green. Traffic is moving much better right now.” [Twitter/X, 1/16/24]
Vehicular issues related to cold weather are not limited to electric vehicles and will likely diminish as infrastructure for EVs expands and EV technology continues to advance
- Gas-powered vehicles also experience problems in cold weather. A story published by CBS pointed out how the cold weather impacted all vehicles, noting that “dead batteries in are likewise a problem in traditional cars with internal combustion engines,” and that mechanics had been “been jumpstarting cars over and over for the past 48 hours.” [CBS News, 1/16/24]
- There is guidance for electric vehicle owners outlining what precautions to take to prevent getting stranded in cold weather. Many articles noted the guidance issued by Tesla for cold weather driving. The New York Times also pointed out that “some of the countries with the highest usage of electric vehicles are also among the coldest. In Norway, where nearly one in four vehicles is electric, drivers are accustomed to taking steps, such as preheating the car ahead of a drive, to increase efficiency even in cold weather.” [Axios, 1/16/24; NPR, 1/17/24; The New York Times, 1/17/24]
- The EV industry is still in its infancy in the U.S., and issues related to charging stations are likely to diminish as EV ownership becomes more widespread. “Cold weather is likely to be less of an issue as companies update electric vehicles models. Even in the last few years, companies have developed capabilities that allow newer models to be more efficient in the cold.” [The New York Times, 1/17/24]
Even after experiencing challenges, some drivers interviewed by Fox challenged the network’s narrative of widespread buyer’s remorse
- Fox & Friends interviewed an EV owner who “loves his Tesla,” and said, “It's such a one-off thing, and not that it could never happen, not that there’s never any other issue that could arise, but if it wasn't for the negative 10-degree temperature and for me having a long commute in the first place. … At least at this point I know to be better prepared.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 1/17/24]
- Another EV owner on Fox & Friends First told hosts that “it’s a great car.” She continued, “It does — it’s not bad in the winter time like everyone says. It’s just a great car. I love the way it drives.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends First, 1/17/24]
- Yet another EV owner interviewed by Jesse Watters expressed concern about some of the battery charging issues but concluded, “I do, however, love the Audi. I love the EV. The experience is great with that car. This is just one of those setbacks.” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 1/16/24]