Oil-Sponsored Slate Article Quickly Dismisses Gas-Saving Cars

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Guess how many paragraphs it takes for this Slate article "made possible by Statoil" takes to dismiss electric cars and hybrids? I'll give you a hint, it's less than four but more than two.

The article "How to Unjam Traffic" published by Slate yesterday is actually fairly reasonable. The main argument is this: meaningful savings in emissions and traffic can come from user-generated road monitoring.


It's true — there's a lot to be said for trying to change how people drive (and try to keep everyone from sitting in traffic jams) rather than trying to change what people drive. It will take decades of sales for the majority of cars on the road to become hybrids or EVs. Implementing apps that let drivers alert others of upcoming jams is much quicker at reducing time spent driving and, in turn, fuel consumption.

It all just feels uncomfortable when it's backed by a company turning a $12+ billion (Ed: Initially this was in Krone) dollar profit (as recorded in their 2010 annual report) selling people gas and other petroleum products


But it's absurd how quickly and readily the article talks down on hybrids. In the third paragraph, author Jeffrey Ball starts his critique.

Amid all the turbocharged talk of Priuses, Leafs, and Teslas—cars that curb fuel consumption by replacing your grandfather’s internal-combustion engine with a hybrid or fully electric motor—a bevy of technologies aim to reduce cars’ environmental impact by choreographing how, when, and where they move around. Less sexy than a new engine but often as technologically complex, the alternatives range from car-sharing programs to smart-traffic-light networks to GPS-enabled systems that reward drivers for commuting before or after the height of rush hour.


He goes on to dismiss the Tesla Roadster as flashy but ineffectual. Again, this isn't wrong, but when there's a Statoil banner at the top it feels weird.

A slick piece of traffic-light software doesn’t get the juices flowing as much as, say, a battery-powered car that can rocket from zero to 60 in fewer than four seconds and never needs to fill up at a gas station. (That car would be the Tesla Roadster.) But such ho-hum advances may matter more.


I actually quite like Ball's conclusion, though, once again, the challenge with "sponsored" posts or "supported" sections is that they're under a banner that would seem to support it. I've had a review delayed because it would run against an advertisement for that very car for that very reason.

Unlike an electric car in your driveway, they’re not likely to turn your neighbors’ heads. But they may do more today than a low-volume electric car to reduce the amount of gasoline that the auto fleet burns. Cool technology comes in many varieties. For the foreseeable future, the kind that’s largely invisible may matter more than the kind that’s shiny and red.


Frankly, that the article didn't start out with "hey you guys, cars that save gas really aren't such a great deal" or "don't feel bad about buying a three-ton SUV so long as you get Waze" should be considered a massive feat of restraint.

(Hat tip to willystaley!)

Photo Credit: Tesla, Toyota, Nissan, Statoil