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CNN Test Drives a Mini E Electric Car – Missing the Point or Just Reflecting Public Views?

By • Mar 16th, 2009 • Category: Clean Car Talk Posts, Videos

CNN did a piece on the Mini E electric car on February 2, 2009. I don’t particularly have problems with CNN reporting in general, as a lot of their fluff can be filtered out – if you watch CNN long enough, you know. Anyway it’s an interesting piece on the Mini E because of several reasons.

Like many other news outlets, CNN does have its moment of sensationalism, just maybe more often than the rest. So if you keep this in mind while watching this news clip, you’ll see other more important things at play here. I certainly had my initial reactions. But I’ll let you watch it first then discuss on the other side.

While the news piece on the Mini E electric car is informative for sure, it seems to have sparked many negative reactions about “moronic reporter and commentator”, “great way to promote saving the earth” (sarcastic), etc. For me my first reaction was, “Nice! Electric cars are getting national and international coverage!” Then my second reaction was (after viewing it live and then recorded version several times), “Hmm, interesting comments are made by the CNN people, like “I’m about to back up .. and it’s not working,” or, reference to driving like “a bumper car,” or, negative comments at the end about the $850 per month lease.”

So here are my thoughts. I think CNN is reporting the news like it is in this case. While this was not live, they decided to leave in the clip of the car stalling. If the car stalls, it stalls. If she had trouble driving the car the first time, then that’s probably what would happen with many other first-time drivers of the Mini E in particular, and electric cars in general. To me it was a good editing decision.

Secondly, if it feels like driving a bumper car, why try to say it in any other way? Everyone can relate to driving a bumper car, especially when she relates it to the car’s behavior in relationship to the petal action. We can all feel the effect of regenerative braking with that single statement, yet many feel that the statement does not help the car’s cause and is out of place, and I disagree. It’s time consumers understand how these things work so they can make buying decisions, and not just through shiny cool looking models on the auto show floors.

With respect to keeping an eye on the Mini E‘s remaining charge level, thus how much distance you have left to drive, she was absolutely right about not wanting to be stranded in the middle of the road which is always a serious issue. Many marketing people would just gloss over this serious issue.

minie usa 300x231 CNN Test Drives a Mini E Electric Car   Missing the Point or Just Reflecting Public Views?CNN did also give plenty of video time for Mini USA Vice President Jim McDowell to say what he needed to say about the car and company goals. So again it was OK reporting there.

Finally, the $850 monthly lease amount. Here’s my take. Granted, the commentator was just a tad over-reacting. But my guess is it would be the exact reaction of many consumers. Forget about going green and saving the earth. People can’t pay for this now or possibly even in the near future. If I’m in a market for a new car, let’s go check out other 30 or even 40+ mpg cars that I can afford and drive today. This Mini E is not for me, and it’s not for many people.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not picking on the Mini E. I think it’s a great concept. On the other hand I advocate that we should all do our part to promote this great solution to a world problem, but do it with at least one foot on the reality ground.

I’ve always maintained that car manufacturers are jumping on the clean driving bandwagon and bring out cars that are not necessarily ready for the consumers. See my recent post on “New Hybrid and Electric Car Choices Can Fail the Car Industry.” Many just want to ride the buzz and free press at auto shows and drive demos, etc. While it may be part of a good development process (such as getting customer feedback and measuring levels of interest), at this stage they’re all really part of the marketing machines churning out sales pitches. If it weren’t for the current economic situation I doubt if we’d see this many announcements for hybrid and electric cars.

In summary, I think this CNN piece is right-on, in that it keeps car manufacturers honest.

So what do you think of the CNN news piece? Do you have a different view on the subject? Would you prefer the news to cover green car technology differently, and what would you consider helpful for consumers to make good decisions about hybrid and electric cars? Share your thoughts with us.

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Tagged as: electric cars, EV, Mini-E, mpg, regenerative braking

is a marketing communications consultant working in the San Diego area. Cuong is dedicated to helping individuals and companies maximize their presence on the Internet and efficiently take products and services to market through SEO and network marketing. Cuong also maintains a blog on Marketing at marketingautopsyblog.com. You can also find Cuong Huynh's profile on LinkedIn. For fun he maintains a blog on Vietnamese pho, soccer and do storyboards for movie and film projects. Follow Cuong on Twitter @CuongHuynh, @LovingPho, @CleanCarTalk, @BlockbusterFilm, @SoccerUSA.
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2 Responses »

  1. I have to disagree with you, in a number of ways the CNN piece was misleading or just plain wrong. The MINI E wont just die in the middle of the street if you run out of power, it will let you know well before you run out of charge and first slow you down and you can still drive for 10-20 miles at low speed.
    They fail to mention the tax breaks, while its not certain, you could get $7500 back from the government which would take about 3/4 off the amount you pay over a year. Here in NJ there is no sales tax on zero emission vehicles.
    As for bumper cars, a 200hp bumper car that is electrically limited to 95 mph and 0-60 in 8.5 seconds, it could have done better but BMW was afraid the emgine would break the standard mini drive train, so they limited its power.
    A future MINI E driver,
    Robert

  2. Hi Robert,

    Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment.

    I agree with everything you say. All of the information you mentioned are important things that buyers should know before deciding if it’s right for them.

    On the one hand, we all know CNN (and many other news outlets) are in the business first to make money (through selling advertising and other ways), so sensationalism and dumbed down statements are all part of the deal.

    On the other hand, I think the CNN segment does 2 very important things. 1) It shows that consumers do not generally have time to research and digest all the marketing and technical “noise” thrown at them, especially for products as new and complex as hybrid and electric cars. Therefore the news has to come down to bite-size, reality-show format if they hope to catch any attention. And 2) The selling parties (in this case the car manufacturers) are not doing a good job explaining and promoting their products to the mass.

    In my opinion, the bumper car comment was specifically used for explaining the feel of regen even though she didn’t say the word exactly. That is how a non-technical person would most accurately describe it. Many viewers, including myself initially, missed this point and had strong reaction that is based on a totally different context. She certainly wasn’t listing out and comparing all attributes between a bumper car and a MINI E.

    CNN had less than 2 minutes to do the whole segment, and the viewers had maybe 30 seconds to view and digest the info. Working with many reporters, I come to understand that it’s always a challenge to educate reporters and hope they say things correctly. It’s not their fault, they’re just not technical. But what they have is the power of broadcasting.

    By the way I, and I’m sure many others, envy you for getting to drive the MINI E for a whole year. I’m sure your blog will be followed with much interest.

So what's your view? Write a comment below.