Broccoli or Doughnuts: Are Electric Cars the Healthy Option We Really Need?

Broccoli or doughnuts? Ask any kid what treat they’d prefer for a mid-morning snack or after-school treat, and with the exception of what we’d term a few statistical anomalies, we’re pretty sure the latter would be the food of choice. Even adults on a diet might splurge and choose the latter over the former, even if they knew it was bad for them.

Electric cars are like broccoli -- no-one wants to eat them -- argues the auto industry. But is it really true?

Electric cars are like broccoli — no-one wants to eat them — argues the auto industry. But is it really true?

As countless health professionals will attest however, that’s no reason to stop encouraging people to live a healthier lifestyle, especially if someone’s health is at risk of diabetes, organ failure and ultimately an early grave due to an unhealthy lifestyle.

Yet habit and stubbornness means that many dieting individuals try to take short-cuts, opting for fad diets and low-calorie options which promise it’s possible to live a healthy lifestyle while eating the things you want — including those doughnuts. Give someone on a diet the choice of a regular doughnut, diet doughnut or broccoli, and they’ll choose the supposedly healthier doughnut.

Despite not being the healthiest option, the aforementioned low-calorie, low-fat doughnut gives those on a diet an excuse to eat something they know is bad for them as it’s not as bad as the full-fat option. Diet — and broccoli — be damned.

As bizarre as it might sound, that diet analogy is now being used by the automotive world to try and argue against ever-increasing Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) targets being set by the U.S. EPA, along with tough zero emission mandates from the state of California calling for electric cars to equal fifteen percent of all new cars sold in the Golden State by 2025.

Electric cars, argues Forrest McConnel, former chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), are a little like broccoli: nobody really wants them, and they’d rather have a low-fat doughnut instead.

As AutomotiveNews reports, the comments were made by McConnel yesterday at the CAR Management Briefing Seminars held in Traverse City, Michigan yesterday. McDonnell, who still runs his own auto dealerships, complained that current legislative efforts to reduce carbon emissions and promote alternative-fuelled, zero-emission vehicles were simply too tough.

Comparing California’s ZEV mandates with offering broccoli to customers who wanted low-calorie doughnuts, McConnel was one of several auto industry professionals warning that California’s ZEV mandate and the EPA’s tough CAFE targets were causing havoc in the auto industry.

The presentations come at a time when many major automakers are seeing a rise in SUV and light truck sales, fuelled by a boom in domestically-produced oil which in turn has dramatically lowered the price of gasoline.

Automakers want California and the EPA to ease their tough mandates on vehicle emissions.

Automakers want California and the EPA to ease their tough mandates on vehicle emissions.

It’s something that Smith Bainwol, president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, says is making automakers even less convinced about electric vehicles and California’s ZEV mandates. The mandates — followed in a total of nine states — require automakers to produce and sell a specific percentage of zero emission vehicles for each ZEV-compliant state in order to avoid hefty fines.

Producing those vehicles, argue automakers, costs far more than producing traditional internal combustion engine vehicles. Additionally, with costly training programs required for auto dealers selling alternative fuelled vehicles, overheads for both dealers and automakers are far higher than they would be for conventional-engined vehicles, lowering profits.

‘The product mix is drifting away” from the targets set by both the EPA and California, said Bainwol.

Essentially then, automakers — with the exception of Tesla Motors — are looking to blame an apathetic, disinterested customer base and the ‘unachievable’ targets set upon them by disconnected legislators.

The problem with this philosophy of course, is that it places the onus on the car buyer and their tastes rather than the automakers. “We’ll make them,” promises the auto industry, “as long as someone wants to buy them.”

Just like tobacco companies of old ignoring the health impacts of smoking and fast food companies of decades past ignoring the impact of eating nothing but burgers and fries every day, blaming it all on the consumer isn’t a sustainable solution.

McDonald's and other fast food outlets had to face the effect their food was having on customers -- what about the auto industry?

McDonald’s and other fast food outlets had to face the effect their food was having on customers — what about the auto industry? Photo by Flickr user nnecapa [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Mandating labelling requirements at restaurants and health warnings on cigarette packets have made a massive impact on both of these health challenges around the world. So too have efforts to force fast food outlets and tobacco companies alike to face up to the health effects that their products cause.

While there’s a long way to go, an informed public — and healthier options — seems to be a model the auto industry needs to follow.

Of course, everything is bad for us in excess, and things that are bad for us are okay in moderation. But will the auto industry follow the path that the tobacco and fast food industry did before it? Or will it continue to blame consumers for not wanting a healthier option? Indeed, will automakers and car buyers want to work together for the benefit of others?

Leave your thought in the Comments below.

[Featured image: “Broccoli and cross section edit” by Fir0002Own work. Licensed under GFDL 1.2 via Wikimedia Commons.]


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  • vdiv

    “Of course, everything is bad for us in excess..”

    Enters the Model S P90D with Ludicrous mode… “Hey! What’s so funny? What did I miss?” 😉

    Rimac Concept One replies: “Nothing much, just nibbling on broccoli and making donuts.”

  • I’ll take an order of half-dipped chocolate covered strawberries.
    A little bad, lots of good! 🙂

  • CDspeed

    I crave electric cars in the same way I would love a glazed donut right now, but the electric car is good for me like broccoli. It kind of seems like a win win situation……now if only I had that donut 🍩🍩😋

  • Chris O

    How the car lobby must resent Tesla that undermines any case it tries to make by showing that broccoli can taste like extreme high calorie doughnuts.

    It does have a point though that low gas prices are not helping to sell premium low emission vehicles. One wonders what’s stopping lawmakers from correcting this problem by slapping on an extra tax dollar every gallon. America’s crumbling roads need the capital injections badly and a period of low gasoline prices right after a period in which people got used to higher prices seems like the ideal time to do it.

    • sault

      What’s stopping them is the belief by the entire GOP and some Democrats that any higher taxes are commie socialism that will single-handedly drive all businesses into bankruptcy.

  • Surya

    I eat broccoli every day, mostly raw. I guess that explains why I drive an EV?

    But there’s a big flaw in their excuse: they’re not even trying to sell the EVs hard enough. After all, EVs are more fun to drive and why wouldn’t anyone want one? Because they don’t know how fun they are. So the manufacturers are just failing to educate the customer enough.

  • windsorsean

    I can’t decide if I love or hate the food analogy. The big challenge with people is resistance to change, even if the change is something they will ultimately like. Unlike the broccoli vs doughnut comparison, many people prefer the driving experience of an EV over an equivalent gas car. Maybe a better comparison is fresh cooked food vs pre-packaged or fast food. The fresh cooking tastes better and is healthier but less convenient and maybe a little more expensive in the short term. But health improvements may save you money in the long term and you will enjoy the experience more. However it requires a change in habits, and that is the hardest part. And when it comes to big business, habits are what make buying predicable so asking consumers to change introduces unknowns and risks and thus not something big companies like to do.

    It takes brave companies like Telsa (and Apple in the 2000s and Ford in the 1900s) to lead that change and bring people along with them.

  • D. Harrower

    I’m in awe of the ambition and raw drive to innovate on display here. Aren’t these traits that the US often beats its chest and claims ownership of?

    Seems more like a bunch of babies whining about how they don’t want to play anymore because it’s too hard and trying to get mommy and daddy to change the rules so they can win.

  • Mark Renburke

    Here’s the problem with the analogy: In reality, despite having the (environmental) “health” benefits of broccoli, PEVs are actually better “tasting” than legacy “donuts” – because they have more instant torque/more to drive, more convenient to “fuel” (a 3 second plug in at home to fully charge overnight), and costs less $ total on average to own (fuel and maintain).

    That’s right, “broccoli” that can look and taste like a better donut, and ends up costing less as well. I rest my case.

  • NotRappaport

    Why must it be broccoli “or” doughnuts? Why not broccoli doughnuts?