Editorials

Of course, oil demonized Tesla

A Tesla Model S is displayed at Frankfurt Auto Show earlier this month.
A Tesla Model S is displayed at Frankfurt Auto Show earlier this month. The Associated Press

We understand the fundamental imperative of the oil industry and gasoline- and diesel-powered automakers. Money and market share are powerful motivators.

In the recent assault on legislation to cut petroleum use by half, an oil industry front called California Drivers Alliance homed in on an especially rich and easy target: Tesla, the high-performance, high-cost cars that are largely California-made.

“If you can afford a Tesla, then this message won’t really matter to you,” the woman-actor says in an ad that aired statewide. The script then suggests that the state would use Senate Bill 350 to ration gasoline.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which includes such brands as BMW, Ford, General Motors, Jaguar, Mercedes, Porsche and, yes, Volkswagen, took a far less public position. But the alliance opposed SB 350, too, saying the petroleum reductions envisioned by the bill were unrealistic. Like the oil industry, it warned that the bill would give unfettered authority to the California Air Resources Board, the regulator that helped force Volkswagen to admit that it made fraudulent claims that its diesel engines ran clean.

The symbolism of going after state regulators and Tesla owners is understandable. Faceless regulators are easy targets. Ad producers deride Tesla for the same reason they go after Nancy Pelosi. Nothing says limousine liberal quite like Tesla, except that in this case, the car is a sleek roadster that doesn’t depend on gasoline.

We have had our issues with Tesla and the Air Resources Board. But Tesla builds its cars in California, and a majority of its 11,000 employees work in this state. Teslas easily can cost in excess of $100,000, as can Mercedes, BMWs and other high-end vehicles represented by the auto alliance.

Unlike those other rides, Teslas don’t emit greenhouse gas or directly contribute to smog. By Tesla’s estimate, its cars have driven more than a billion miles, saving more than 500 million tons of carbon dioxide, and avoiding $175 million in gasoline purchases.

And the company plans to start delivering $35,000 electric sedans in 2017, which will more directly compete with moderately priced petroleum-powered vehicles such as Volkswagen.

The oil industry and the auto alliance had plenty of reasons for opposing SB 350. Car companies want to protect their market share. Oil companies want to sell gasoline and diesel. If they can demonize an electric car company or regulators who ask nosy questions, so much the better; not for us, maybe, but for them.

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