Meet the Media: John Voelcker, Freelance Writer & Analyst

I’m now a freelance writer and analyst covering electric vehicles and the charging networks that power them. From 2009 to 2018, I ran Green Car Reports; over nine years, I wrote 5,300 articles and edited another 7,500 or so. We built GCR into the highest-traffic U.S. site on low- and zero-emission vehicles and the policy issues surrounding them, so I’m proud of that.

Over the last 18 months, I’ve written for not only Green Car Reports, but also IEEE Spectrum, Charged Magazine, and several other outlets. I’ve been interviewed by “All Things Considered,” and moderated or taken part in panel sessions at several conferences. I also sleep more than I did in the days when I had to get four to six stories a day out before noon Eastern time!

My role is to explain to real-world car shoppers what EVs are, what kinds of uses they work for, and what the various financial, infrastructure, and environmental impacts are—in digestible, cheerful sound bites that educate readers, listeners, and viewers.

Can you tell us what types of stories, trends or issues are on your radar now?
Three broad areas: (1) Battery-electric and plug-in hybrid cars, and the charging networks that power them; (2) cleaner energy and the evolving electric-utility and grid systems that distribute it; and (3) more broadly, climate change and the large-scale decarbonization of every part of our lives that will be required to stem its worst effects over our lifetimes.

Describe the craziest or most fun story you have written.
I once did a very, very deadpan April Fool’s story saying the N.R.A. was supporting a (totally imaginary) new bill in Congress to require all electric cars to include power-out ports suitable for use with personal railguns. I thought it was waaaaaaay too geeky and esoteric to draw any attention. But our syndication service picked it up and ran it just like any other Green Car Reports news story. That was a mess. And it was the last April Fool’s story our sites ever ran ….

I also had fun with a previous April Fool’s story from 2011. The comments indicated that at least some readers didn’t get the joke, but I like to think it gave entrepreneurs the idea for the real startup mobile service that would come to your driveway and fill your tank with gasoline so you didn’t have to visit a gas station: Startup offers gasoline-tank swaps derived from electric-car concept

What story or stories are you most proud of?
We did an unanticipated Sunday news story in September 2017, when Chinese state media outlets reported the country would ban sales of vehicles with combustion engines at some point in the future: China developing timetable to end sales, production of gasoline cars

We subsequently named it our most important news story of the year—though the massive impact of that policy has yet to sink in among far too many North American journalists.

I’m pleased with some of the myth-busting pieces I’ve done over the years, including this one, originally written as a response to one of those error-filled circulating emails mass-forwarded by well-meaning friends: Busting 7 of the most common myths about electric cars (Green Car Reports, May 2019)

And perhaps my favorite story let me blend the history of the auto industry throughout the 20th century with a very 21st-century topic: Elon Musk and Tesla: Why Tesla’s Elon Musk must sell 6 million cars to make history (Green Car Reports, June 2014)

What elements or characteristics do you look for in a story?
Vehicles, products, or services that will actually change the lives of real-world consumers … and make a real difference in reducing emissions, cutting energy use, and boosting use of renewable energy. Smart services or products that reduce the many, many pain points today in running an EV are good. And the combination of EVs and renewable energy is appealing to many, suitable for some of them. All of these issues need to be untangled and made simple, with the pros and the cons fairly and accurately represented.

How long have you been in journalism and how did you get started?
I accidentally sold my first freelance article at age 14, when I sent a very long writeup to Old Cars Weekly on the history of Morris Minors (a 1948-71 small car that was “Britain’s Volkswagen Beetle”). I forgot about it until, 10 weeks later, I got six copies in the mail and a cheque for $15.

My first full-time job as an editor and writer was with IEEE Spectrum in 1985. They really taught me to be a professional magazine writer and storyteller. Probably harder on them than on me!

Since then I’ve bounced back and forth among editing, writing, and managing, with a few diversions into Yahoo product management, e-retail, and other side gigs.

Finish this sentence: If I am not reporting, I am …
Puttering with the old cars in the workshop. (Five so far, and counting.)

What advice do you have for PR people that want to pitch you?
I can now afford to be somewhat selective about the stories I work on. I’m looking for future themes, especially around new technologies that are close to reaching deployment at scale.

With the exception of battery-cell companies, I do almost nothing on suppliers. Vehicle makers of all sorts, sure, but not Tier Ones or beyond.

Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep me informed about other stuff, but aside from new cars with plugs (I drive every one multiple times), it may take a longer, more overarching piece before I can reach out for further interviews, visits, etc.

Finally, an unrequested pro tip: Every PR person working on anything to do with electric cars needs to be able to discuss the global reach of that technology or product or service, knowledgeably. EVs are likely the most global part of an already global industry, and if you can’t speak to that, I’d argue you’re stinting your client.

Any pet peeves with PR people?
Cold calls from friendly but clueless young PR assistants who’ve been given a long list of people to pitch with zero context on who we are, what we do, the types of stories we might cover (and would never cover), and no opportunity to do anything more than read scripts.

They are one of the reasons I only answer incoming calls from numbers I recognize.

Tell us a little about yourself (family, interests, hobbies, background, etc.)
Born and raised in the U.K. and upstate New York, now split my time between Manhattan and a house in the Catskill Mountains (3 hours north) where I do all my test-driving. Spend a lot of time in California, especially Silicon Valley, as well as the U.K. Honing my skills as a rake-waver screaming at the kidz to GET OFF THE LAWN !! Still have hopes of being an International Man of Mystery. Once called “the Anderson Cooper of automotive journalism.”

My better half works in banking, and I’ve owned several dozen vehicles built from 1949 to 2002. Nothing newer, yet. Waiting for that affordable 250-mile EV compact crossover with all-wheel drive, meaning I might buy my first-ever new car in 2025 or so.

You can follow John on Twitter: johnvoelcker and on Instagram: thejohnvoelcker

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