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Listen to Trump’s dinner guests talk complete nonsense about Tesla and EVs

An 83-minute-long video of a dinner attended by Donald Trump in April 2018 was released today by Lev Parnas.

The video touches on many subjects, many of which been covered elsewhere. But here on Electrek, we are particularly interested in the part starting around minute 57, where there is approximately 15 minutes’ worth of discussion about electric vehicles, alternative fuels, shipping, and autonomous driving.

And almost all of it is nonsense.

The video includes several unidentified voices, and one voice which is quite clearly Trump’s. He also appears in the beginning of the video.

The discussion begins with the voice of a man who is involved in a business that compresses natural gas. He starts heavily into a pitch to get compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles on the road. He claims that CNG vehicles would help manufacturers meet emissions standards, which is something they’re currently having difficulty doing.

Trump responds that “we’re gonna lower that,” and the original voice states, “Absolutely, you’ve done a great job on that.”

This is referring to Trump’s current attempt to roll back EPA mileage standards put in place under President Barack Obama. We have written about how this move will kill Americans and cost them money based on the EPA’s own analysis of the plan. The case is currently being opposed on several levels, with several states and businesses opposing the rollback.

The CNG advocate then states that there is an opportunity for CNG vehicles to be on par with electric cars, but “we don’t want any tax credit, all we want is… ”

Unfortunately, we don’t get to hear exactly what he wants, because that’s when the discussion launches into all sorts of myths about electric cars — though mostly from Trump’s impromptu advisers, rather than from Trump himself.

Trump asks, “How are electric cars doing now?” and his compatriots stumble over each other to claim that electric vehicles, which doubled over the course of the year prior to the conversation, are “not [doing] good.”

When Trump brings up Tesla as a possible counterexample, another voice states, “No, Tesla’s broke, 100%,” and someone interjects, “He’s shutting down the line of the most popular car.”

This may refer to the few days that Tesla shut down the Model 3 line in April 2018 in order to improve automation. At the time, Tesla was producing around 2,000 Model 3s per week. Last quarter, Tesla produced almost four times that many Model 3s per week, so indeed the line was not actually “shut down” in any permanent manner, and Tesla’s “most popular car” is significantly more popular than it was even then.

That voice then launches into a soliloquy filled with roughly zero accurate information about the situation at hand:

They can’t produce them, he’s already, the auto companies have caught up to him, he’s never generated anywhere close to positive cash flow, he’s subsidized by 25,000 per vehicle. It’s over. The other thing people forget about it it’s great to have an electric vehicle, but you gotta plug it in and get a charge somewhere. The carbon footprint of this phone is the same as a refrigerator running, you need to generate the power. And generating it with wind and solar, wind and solar only generate 3.5% of our power usage today, you would take 50 years to get up to 5% at the rate we’re growing. It is still fossil fuels generating power, and you have to have nuclear, you have to have oil and gas, and you have to have coal.

For a quick breakdown of the things wrong with this monologue, see below:

  • Tesla had in fact generated positive cash flow prior to this conversation, in Q3 2016. And since that conversation (which happened during Q2 2018), Tesla has only reported negative cash flow twice, and positive cash flow four times.
  • No electric car is subsidized by $25,000 per vehicle in the US. Federally, most electric car models receive a $7,500 tax credit, though Teslas no longer receive that. At the time of the conversation, Tesla was pretty close to hitting the threshold for the end of federal tax credits.
  • However, gasoline vehicles are subsidized tremendously in the US, some of them to the tune of around $25,000 over the lifetime of the vehicle. This is due to the ignored health and environmental costs of pollution created by the burning of fossil fuels. The example S-Class Mercedes used in our article, getting 20 miles per gallon and driving 150,000 miles over its lifetime, would receive $28,500 in subsidy due to those ignored costs imposed on the public — dwarfing any EV subsidy in the US.
  • CNG, which was the topic of conversation at the time, is also subsidized federally at 50 cents per gallon.
  • Yes, you do have to charge an electric car somewhere. That somewhere, for most electric car owners, is home or work, where their car is going to be parked for several hours a day anyway. Electric car owners will generally tell you that this convenience is one of the main benefits of owning an electric car. Everyone (well, except Toyota) understands that electric cars need to be charged.
  • The carbon footprint of a phone is not the same as a refrigerator running. Refrigerators typically use a few hundred watts of electricity when running, and phones typically use less than a watt.
  • US electricity generation by source in 2018 included 6.5% wind and 1.5% solar. This is 8% combined, more than double the 3.5% stated above. It will not take 50 years to get to 5%, since we are already past 5%. Solar and wind are also growing quickly, and most new capacity added in the US for the last few years has been in the form of renewables.
  • Virtually nobody generates electricity through oil. It’s responsible for less than 1% of electricity generation nationwide. So you do not “need oil” for electricity generation. There are also plenty of regions and countries that get away without nuclear, coal, or gas for energy generation, and some countries with large hydropower resources available get away without all three.
  • Finally, Tesla Motors Inc. is a company, not a person. Referring to a company as a “he” is strange use of language.

The discussion continues from here, with more focus on Tesla. Trump asks why the stock price is so high, and his compatriots state it’s because “he’s a great salesman,” referring to Tesla CEO Elon Musk. But the soliloquizer states that that “that stock is history, he’s done.”  Currently, Tesla stock is 80%-90% higher than it was in April 2018.

The compatriots then start talking about the “great salesman” Elon Musk, who apparently, despite being a “brilliant guy,” is “a little off socially.”  It remains to be seen how someone can be both a “great salesman” and “a little off socially,” given how important sociability is to salesmanship.

After this side discussion of Tesla and Musk, the CNG advocate gets back to work trying to lobby for his pet fuel. He explains that the US is “the Saudi Arabia” of natural gas, and that we should focus on this energy source. “It’s local, it’s domestic, it’s cheap, it’s plentiful, it’s clean,” he says. There are some ways to make clean CNG via biofuels, but given his statement about the US being “the Saudi Arabia” of natural gas, he is likely talking about fossil, non-biofuel natural gas from fracking operations that have boomed in the US recently. And fossil natural gas often results in large methane leaks, which are very damaging.

The only reason that CNG isn’t being used in transportation, according to him, is “because the auto manufacturers aren’t incentivized” (but wait, wasn’t he not “asking for any tax credit”? what incentive does he want, then?) and “[CNG technology development] shut off because everyone went to battery.”  But the voices on the tape still maintain that electric vehicles are unpopular, despite manufacturers and the public changing focus to EVs over other types of vehicles.

They also state that “hybrids are definitely more popular” than electric cars.  But for the past few years, a trend has been happening where pure electric sales have been rising and PHEV/hybrid sales have been dropping. This stands to continue in 2020, with the global auto industry facing decline and EV sales being the strongest rising sector within the auto industry.

There are precious few points of sanity injected into the discussion at any point, and notably two of them come from people who actually have experience with what they’re talking about.

At one point, there’s discussion about the aluminum body of the Ford F-150.  Some voices state that this was not a good investment for Ford.

But the one person in the room who actually has an F-150 says that he very much likes his aluminum F-150 compared to other trucks he’s had in the past. “It’s so much lighter, it drives like a high performance vehicle,” he says.

This happens again later in the conversation, where a man who owns a trucking company that ships mail for the US Postal Service chimes in and tells the CNG advocate that, in his opinion, CNG is kind of bad. He states that their CNG trucks have “a lot less power, a lot less mpg, and if you don’t get the 50 cent tax credit it’s not feasible.”

This is a little inaccurate since CNG is not sold in gallons, but in “gasoline gallon equivalents (GGE),” so this is probably what he is referring to with “mpg.”  A CNG vehicle ought to get the same energy from one GGE as it would from one gallon of gasoline, since that’s the point of the measurement.

What stands out here in that statement is that the trucking company owner thinks that CNG is only feasible because of a 50 cent per gallon tax credit.  Earlier in this conversation, it was asserted that Tesla’s electric vehicles could not exist without subsidy, even though currently in 2020 they get no federal subsidy in the US and yet are still selling to consumers as we speak. But now in the conversation, a trucking company owner is asserting that CNG trucks are the ones that are not feasible without subsidies.

The trucking company owner goes on to talk about truck drivers, and float the idea that an autonomous drive lane should be added to highways for driverless long-haul trucking. And one voice pipes up with some final inaccurate fearmongering before the conversation moved on to other topics: “I’m scared of those, you see those cars driving by themselves.” This doesn’t actually happen, as semi-autonomous vehicles on US roads (outside of small testing areas) currently need a driver behind the wheel, and that was even more true in 2018 before Waymo started their geofenced driverless program.

Watch the video here (again, the electric car comments begin at around 57 minutes in), and feel free to post any other juicy details you hear in the comments below:

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Avatar for Jameson Dow Jameson Dow

Jameson has been driving electric vehicles since 2009, and has been writing about them and about clean energy for since 2016.

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