A quick charge-up on the Tesla vs. New York Times story

On February 8, The New York Times published John Broder’s account of his drive from the Washington, D.C., area to Milford, Conn., in a Tesla Motors Model S. The trip, he said, required him to shut off the heat, go slowly and once engage the services of a tow truck. “If this is Tesla’s vision of long-distance travel in America’s future, I thought, and the solution to what the company calls the ‘road trip problem,’ it needs some work,” Broder wrote. A timeline of what followed:

Feb. 11: Tesla honcho Elon Musk calls b.s.:

 

Feb. 12: Broder defends his story, says Musk “called me on Friday, before the article went up on the Web, to offer sympathy and regrets about the outcome of my test drive.” Says he’s up for another test drive.

Feb. 13: Musk writes a graph-dotted post challenging many points in Broder’s narrative.

Musk also cited a previous article in which Broder wrote “the state of the electric car is dismal” as proof of his bias.

Feb. 14: Don’t act so shocked, Mr. Musk (sorry): “Accurate quote, inaccurate portrayal,” Erik Wemple writes in The Washington Post. He finds the earlier Broder piece “balanced.”

The author of the rant against Broder, Musk, argues that in allowing Broder to test-drive the Model S, the company “let down the cause of electric vehicles.” Those words are a missionary’s, an advocate’s, and they’re evidence of a mind-set that interprets inconvenient facts as “disdain” or bias or worse.

Feb. 14: Jalopnik’s Patrick George interviews the towing company Broder used after his test car went kaput. Musk claimed the car’s “battery never ran out of energy at any time, including when Broder called the flatbed truck.” A representative of the towing company says the driver had to call someone at Tesla “about how to get it out of gear, it was so dead.”

Feb. 14: Broder promises a response to Musk on the Times’ Wheels blog, as does Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan. Broder’s agreed to an interview with her; Musk has not replied, she wrote.

I eventually intend to ask him to fully release and “open source” the driving logs, along with whatever other data might be necessary for better understanding and interpretation.

Feb. 14: Broder replies to Musk on the Wheels blog. “His broadest charge is that I consciously set out to sabotage the test,” the reporter writes. “That is not so.” He goes point-by-point through Musk’s arguments and notes that he made “about a dozen calls to Tesla personnel expressing concern about the car’s declining range and asking how to reach the Supercharger station in Milford, Conn.,” and that he followed their instructions.

Feb. 14: “Broder may not have used Musk’s car the way Musk would like,” Rebecca Greenfield writes in an Atlantic Wire that looks at the CEO’s claims, “but Musk is, for now, overhyping his case for a breach of journalism ethics.”

Feb. 14: The Times’ Sullivan updates her post to say she’s “tried two more times to reach Mr. Musk, to no avail.” She tried to reach him via Twitter, too. Friday morning Sullivan tweeted that Musk’s office called her back and they plan to talk.

Feb. 15: The Tesla-Times argy-bargy “misses the larger point,” Bryan Walsh writes in Time.

Even if Tesla is mostly right that Broder didn’t operate his Tesla S for maximum efficiency, the reality is that electric cars—even ones that can supposedly get 300 miles to a charge—aren’t ready to drive long distances.

Feb. 15: Tesla tells the Post’s Wemple that Musk’s Feb. 13 post “would be its final statement” in this affair. “If Tesla doesn’t make it as a car company, perhaps it has a future in annotated polemico-forensic graph-making,” he suggests.

Feb. 15: CNN’s Peter Valdes-Dapena drove from Washington to Boston in a Tesla Model S and had considerably more success, he reports. For one thing, no flatbed trucks were necessary. “There were some differences with my ride and the one from the New York Times,” Valdes-Dapena writes. “The weather for mine was about 10 degrees warmer. And I did mine in one day; the reviewer from the Times split it into two.”

Poynter will update this timeline as more datapoints become measurable.

Quick zaps: Five important lessons from the dustup over the NYT’s Tesla test drive (GigaOM) | Tesla tears down NYT Model S review with car’s own logs (SlashGear) | Who’s Lying: Tesla or the New York Times? Maybe Neither. (Slate)

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  • http://twitter.com/rptrane RoscoepColetrane

    I’ve read all the coverage about this and the only difference between the NYT trip and the other trip was the fact that he stopped overnight, which killed the battery and put everything else into motion. I wouldn’t know, unless told, that the battery would loose that much charge overnight. We don’t know why he didn’t plug it in over night but the possible reasons are many, such as no nearby outlet. Also the story was supposed to be about the supercharger network. The projected range is a big issue with an all electric car. If you poke around you’ll find Tesla owners saying they’ve had similar issues with range in cold weather. I hate that this guy’s integrity gets maligned because the car has limitations.

  • http://twitter.com/graygoods Gray

    Hello Mr. Herford, welcome to the internet! This is your SECOND (2nd! Wow.) comment via Disqus, congratulations. Just out of curiosity: With that underwhelming experience, do you seriously regard yourself as an expert on civility in discussions here?

  • http://www.facebook.com/pherford Peter Herford

    If the comments below are civil, I cringe at what incivility might produce. The reactions this story has produced may increase the chances that a review by editors at the NYTimes or others may give a more objective view of Mr. Broder’s story. I am left with the question of why would Mr. Broder set out to sabotage the Tesla car? Because he is also on the energy beat? Does not seem likely, logical, and certainly a violation of NYTimes standards. Would Mr. Broder risk his career over one story?
    A larger point emerges from all the back and forth. The car, while capable of a DC to Boston trip, requires 2.5 extra hours of time because of the need to recharge. If there were more than one car in line at a supercharge station that time might extend significantly. Is that what comes with a $100,000+ vehicle? There is no doubt that driving locally is a reasonable application of all-electric cars without compromises (though recharging may be a problem as sales scales rise). But logic supersedes both Mr. Musk vs Mr. Broder when it comes to the question: Is there a market for Tesla, as a high performance vehicle, for long distance driving?
    peter m herford

  • http://twitter.com/graygoods Gray

    Yes, but I wouldn’t drive through death valley with that jerk Broder doing the refueling and the driving!

  • http://twitter.com/graygoods Gray

    Folks, have you EVER heard of another car test that made the accuracy of the range calculator the major focus of the story? Ever read or seen that a car tester put exactly the amount of fuel in that the manufacturer’s MPG data, or the car’s computer, necessited, with the predictable result he got stranded before reaching his destination? Nope. Doesn’t happen. So,why the opviously different standard used by Broder in his hit piece?

    Sure, Tesla’s ad promises may be a bit too bold (but then, is Detroit ANY better?), there still is a compromise in driving an electric car. But for 95% or more of the typical car usage, most importantly commuting, you will get along fine nowadays. Broder isn’t only testing cars for the NYT, he’s also on the beat for energy issues and other technological stuff. He simply can’t be that dumb not to know about stop and go not being an energy efficient way to drive (too much energy is wasted by braking instead of regenerated when slowing down), about the typical energy loss of a battery in cold weather, or about the impact of the electrical heater on the range. During the whole test, he only fully charged the battery at the very start and then only put as much in as was essential for covering the distance. And yet, the Tesla S managed to outron his negative expectations, until that leg when he wanted to go 61 miles with a calculated battery range of 32 miles that still brought him 52 miles, just a few miles short of the recharging station.

    Really, Broder can’t be that dumb, he apparently wanted that carwreck to happen and did all he could to assure it! Tough luck for him that the data proves that.

  • k808a

    Here’s the story CNN filed on its experience: http://money.cnn.com/2013/02/15/autos/tesla-model-s/

    And here’s how Consumer Reports handled the cold-affecting-range question: http://news.consumerreports.org/cars/2013/02/tesla-model-s-winter-chills-limit-the-electric-cars-range.html

    Both make the NYT account seem like a dramatization by comparison.

    There *are* some legitimate issues here on whether Tesla overreached in spacing its Superchargers 200 miles apart, and the NYT was right to explore that.

    But the reporter’s errors (speed, cabin temperature, embarking on a 61-mile trip when the car indicates 32 miles remaining, inability to find a charging station others say is prominent and well-lit) undercut whatever value the article may have had.

  • k808a

    Yes, if Broder is kept well away from the controls.

  • pguinnessy

    you can see the CNN trip here. And this is the third trip on the same route that seems to have made it ok. https://twitter.com/PeterDrives/

  • harryeagar

    Hmmm. Would you go into space on this man’s spaceship?

  • http://twitter.com/zrahul2020 Rohit Kumar

    can u Add update about CNN taking the same route & completing the route