Tesla Takes On the Times

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    Feb 14, 2013 6:18 PM GMT
    I'm totally out of my league on the technical side here, but this war of words between electric automaker Tesla and NYT automotive writer and test-driver John Broder is blowing up.

    I'm not so much interested in views about the cars in general, but about whether you agree/disagree with Tesla that the writer unfairly tainted his critique with bias against the vehicles.

    First, Broder's expose in the Sunday NY Times (I'm over my quota so I can't copy snippets), and follow-up reactions to reader criticisms:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/10/automobiles/stalled-on-the-ev-highway.html

    http://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/12/the-charges-are-flying-over-a-test-of-teslas-charging-network/

    And Tesla's takedown of Broder's "most peculiar" test drive:

    http://www.teslamotors.com/blog/most-peculiar-test-drive

    TeslaTo date, hundreds of journalists have test driven the Model S in every scenario you can imagine. The car has been driven through Death Valley (the hottest place on Earth) in the middle of summer and on a track of pure ice in a Minnesota winter. It has traveled over 600 miles in a day from the snowcapped peaks of Tahoe to Los Angeles, which made the very first use of the Supercharger network, and moreover by no lesser person than another reporter from The New York Times. Yet, somehow John Broder “discovered” a problem and was unavoidably left stranded on the road. Or was he?

    After a negative experience several years ago with Top Gear, a popular automotive show, where they pretended that our car ran out of energy and had to be pushed back to the garage, we always carefully data log media drives. While the vast majority of journalists are honest, some believe the facts shouldn’t get in the way of a salacious story. In the case of Top Gear, they had literally written the script before they even received the car (we happened to find a copy of the script on a table while the car was being “tested”). Our car never even had a chance.

    The logs show again that our Model S never had a chance with John Broder. In the case with Top Gear, their legal defense was that they never actually said it broke down, they just implied that it could and then filmed themselves pushing what viewers did not realize was a perfectly functional car. In Mr. Broder’s case, he simply did not accurately capture what happened and worked very hard to force our car to stop running...

    We assumed that the reporter would be fair and impartial, as has been our experience with The New York Times, an organization that prides itself on journalistic integrity. As a result, we did not think to read his past articles and were unaware of his outright disdain for electric cars. We were played for a fool and as a result, let down the cause of electric vehicles. For that, I am deeply sorry...

    When the facts didn’t suit his opinion, he simply changed the facts. Our request of The New York Times is simple and fair: please investigate this article and determine the truth. You are a news organization where that principle is of paramount importance and what is at stake for sustainable transport is simply too important to the world to ignore.


    Finally, Forbes' critique of electric plugins in general, acknowledging they don't care whether Broder faked his findings or not:

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/joannmuller/2013/02/11/fake-or-not-new-york-times-tesla-review-speaks-truth-about-electric-cars/
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    Feb 14, 2013 6:33 PM GMT
    From the Tesla blog response:

    articlemap0.jpg
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    Feb 14, 2013 7:34 PM GMT
    Wow. No wonder I don't read "Forbes."
    "Fake or not New York Times Tesla review speaks the truth about electric cars."
    Huh?
    And the attached "story" contains nothing to back that up, except that the writer "doesn't believe" that Broder lied. The telemetry released by Tesla shows pretty convincingly that one party or the other is flat-out lying.
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    Feb 14, 2013 8:29 PM GMT
    mindgarden saidWow. No wonder I don't read "Forbes."
    "Fake or not New York Times Tesla review speaks the truth about electric cars."
    Huh?
    And the attached "story" contains nothing to back that up, except that the writer "doesn't believe" that Broder lied. The telemetry released by Tesla shows pretty convincingly that one party or the other is flat-out lying.


    The headline was what grabbed my attention, too. The article was written by the "Detroit Bureau Chief", so there's that. And one of the side articles was from another Forbes writer suddenly concerned that she, too, was monitored by Tesla while driving their property. Forbes sure is engaging in knee-jerk distraction, but for who's purpose?

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    Feb 15, 2013 12:53 AM GMT
    The Times Strikes Back!

    http://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/14/that-tesla-data-what-it-says-and-what-it-doesnt/
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    Feb 15, 2013 4:53 PM GMT
    Slate did a good job refereeing the disputed claims:

    http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2013/02/14/nyt_tesla_test_drive_times_reviewing_elon_musk_s_data_logs_blog_post_about.html

    SlateAccording to Broder, a lot of the charging decisions that Musk criticized were actually specifically recommended by the Tesla representatives that Broder spoke to. That includes the seemingly self-defeating decision to leave the public charging station in Norwich, Conn. after charging the battery only to 28 percent. Broder writes:

    "It was also Tesla that told me that an hour of charging (at a lower power level) at a public utility in Norwich, Conn., would give me adequate range to reach the Supercharging station 61 miles away, even though the car’s range estimator read 32 miles – because, again, I was told that moderate-speed driving would “restore” the battery power lost overnight. ... To reiterate: Tesla personnel told me over the phone that they were able to monitor the state of the battery. It was they who cleared me to leave Norwich after an hour of charging."

    Broder adds that the Tesla personnel he talked with before the test drive, including CTO JB Straubel, did not give him detailed instructions on how to get the most out of the vehicle's range or the charging stations. One could argue that Broder should have asked, but the fact that Tesla's reps knew his planned route and did not offer that advice suggests that they didn't think it would be a problem.

    As for some of the numerical discrepancies between Tesla's data and Broder's account, Broder didn't have a great explanation other than that he wrote what he had taken down in his notes. That leaves open the question of whether he fudged things a bit or whether Tesla's data is wrong. But Broder points out that the car came with 19-inch wheels and all-season tires rather than 21-inch wheels and summer tires, which in theory could help explain why some readings were slightly off.


    SlatePerhaps the most convincing statistic in Broder's rebuttal is the number of times he called Tesla personnel throughout the trip to ask for help getting the car to its destination: "about a dozen," he says. That's hardly what you'd expect from a man "determined" to get the car to die so he could embarrass Musk and co. in his review. If Musk is angry at anyone for sabotaging Broder's trip, it seems it should be his own employees. (Indeed, that may also be the case: The spokeswoman who arranged Broder's test drive left Tesla shortly afterward and now works for a different Musk venture, Space-X.)

    The bottom line is this: For a variety of reasons, including user error, the Model S and its brand-new Supercharger network didn't live up to expectations on one man's road trip. That doesn't make Broder a liar, and it doesn't make the Model S a failure. If anything, it shows a slight dark side to Musk's unshakeable confidence in his product's ability to do things no one expects an electric car to be able to do. It's that confidence, of course, that has made Tesla the talk of the auto world in the first place. But Musk's apparent refusal to entertain the idea that anything could go wrong opened the door for a reporter like Broder to poke a hole in the hype (whether that was his original intent or not). And his continued insistence that his product is idiot-proof—in the face of mounting evidence that it is not—has allowed a single bad review to balloon into a major controversy.


    SlateUPDATE, Feb. 15, 8:59 a.m.: A reporter for CNN Money just took his own Tesla road trip from Washington, D.C. to Boston, with strikingly different results. Peter Valdes-Dapena writes:

    As I drove into Connecticut, I realized something amazing. Not only did I have enough battery range left, I had plenty. I had at least 40 miles -- more than an entire Chevy Volt's worth of electricity -- left to play with. I sped up, cruising over 70, riding in the left lane, mashing the gas pedal just to feel how fast the car could shoot from 65 to 80. I was practically giddy.
    In the end, I made it -- and it wasn't that hard.


    http://money.cnn.com/2013/02/15/autos/tesla-model-s/index.html