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Elon Musk of Tesla Motors vs. the New York Times

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What I think happened:

  • Does the Tesla overstate its range? Yes, if you drive 50-55 with minimal heat/air conditioning. Reduce range by 10% if you drive 65. Reduce range by another 10% in winter with heat or summer with air conditioning.

  • Does the Tesla battery retain its charge when it is cold? No. That's why you plug it in at night.

  • Did Broder set the cruise control to 54? No.

  • Did Broder turn off the heat, and did his feet freeze, and did his knuckles turn white as his body tried to reduce heat loss through the hands? No. Eventually he turned the heat down to 64 1/2.

  • Did he think that running out of electrons would make for a more interesting story? Yes.

  • Did he try to make the car run out of electrons before Milford? I can't say.

  • Did he forget to plug in the car in Groton because he was trying to make the car run out of electrons? I can't say.

  • Did he fail to stop on the road from Groton to Milford because he was then trying to make the car run out of electrons? Yes.

  • Did he claim the car was dead even though it was not? Probably not--probably he did not understand that turning it off meant that with the battery so low it would not automatically restart.

And time to call this one for Elon Musk on points:

John Broder:

The phrase “the car fell short of its projected range” appeared in a caption with an accompanying map; it was not in the article.


I do recall setting the cruise control to about 54 m.p.h., as I wrote. The log shows the car traveling about 60 m.p.h. for a nearly 100-mile stretch on the New Jersey Turnpike. I cannot account for the discrepancy, nor for a later stretch in Connecticut where I recall driving about 45 m.p.h., but it may be the result of the car being delivered with 19-inch wheels and all-season tires, not the specified 21-inch wheels and summer tires. That just might have affected the recorded speed, range, rate of battery depletion or any number of other parameters.

This looks very, very, very bad indeed for the New York Times:

A Most Peculiar Test Drive: You may have heard recently about an article written by John Broder from The New York Times that makes numerous claims about the performance of the Model S…. After a negative experience several years ago with Top Gear… 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… 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… worked very hard to force our car to stop running….

The final leg of his trip was 61 miles and yet he disconnected the charge cable when the range display stated 32 miles.… Had he not insisted on doing a nonstop 61-mile trip while staring at a screen that estimated half that range, all would have been well. He constructed a no-win scenario for any vehicle, electric or gasoline. [Broder claims that Tesla people told him he would make it even though the range display said only 32; why Broder did not plug the car in overnight is unexplained.]

On that leg, he drove right past a public charge station while the car repeatedly warned him that it was very low on range…. [Why Broder did not stop to charge is unexplained.]

The charge time on his second stop was 47 mins… not 58 mins as stated in the graphic…. Had Broder not deliberately turned off the Supercharger at 47 mins and actually spent 58 mins Supercharging, it would have been virtually impossible to run out of energy for the remainder of his stated journey.

For his first recharge, he charged the car to 90%. During the second Supercharge, despite almost running out of energy on the prior leg, he deliberately stopped charging at 72%. On the third leg, where he claimed the car ran out of energy, he stopped charging at 28%. Despite narrowly making each leg, he charged less and less each time. Why would anyone do that?…

When he first reached our Milford, Connecticut Supercharger, having driven the car hard and after taking an unplanned detour through downtown Manhattan to give his brother a ride, the display said "0 miles remaining." Instead of plugging in the car, he drove in circles for over half a mile in a tiny, 100-space parking lot. [Could Broder have been lost and trying to find the charging station?] When the Model S valiantly refused to die, he eventually plugged it in….

When Tesla first approached The New York Times about doing this story, it was supposed to be focused on future advancements in our Supercharger technology… [not about] existing Superchargers on the East Coast…. We were played for a fool and as a result, let down the cause of electric vehicles. For that, I am deeply sorry….

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.

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?