Tesla Refutes NY Times In Continued War of Words

Since New York Times reporter John Broder wrote his account last week describing a $101,000 Tesla Model S leaving him stranded in the cold, a virtual skirmish of insinuation and accusation has continued between the Times and Tesla.

Today, Tesla issued what it said would be its final word with a bullet list of points it says were culled from data logs taken from the test car Broder drove. The company says these prove his story cannot be true.

As we noted on Tuesday, Elon Musk said the data logs the company keeps on all journalistic test drives show Broder’s story is “a fake.”

Today, Tesla drew parallels between Broder’s alleged editorial hijacking and lessons learned at the hands of British auto show Top Gear in which they staged a run-out-of-juice scene of a Tesla Roadster.

“While the vast majority of journalists are honest, some believe the facts shouldn’t get in the way of a salacious story,” wrote Tesla in a blog post bylined by Elon Musk, Chairman, Product Architect & CEO. He was speaking of Top Gear, but then said the same was basically true of Broder.

“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,” wrote Musk.

Allowing that in other times during the past week Musk has attempted to show himself as diplomatic as possible, in blunt terms one could say the automaker is calling the New York Times reporter a liar.

Salacious Story?

Broder’s story, which he has maintained is absolutely factual, was juicy in its details that added up to fodder in support of the usual messages we hear EV critics make.

The trip he contemplated from Washington to Boston was to test the Model S and its Supercharger fast-charging stations.

He did it in the dead of winter, when true enough, electric vehicles do experience diminished charge holding capacity and range, but the 85-kwh Model S was capable of making the trip – according to Tesla, not Broder.

Broder said the car – subsidized by $465 million in taxpayer loans and costing triple an average new car that could have made it – let him down. This, Broder said as he chronicled his adventure from his influential New York Times platform toward the Model S’ alleged failure.

“As I crossed into New Jersey some 15 miles later, I noticed that the estimated range was falling faster than miles were accumulating,” he wrote of when he began to sense things might be going wrong.

“I began following Tesla’s range-maximization guidelines, which meant dispensing with such battery-draining amenities as warming the cabin and keeping up with traffic,” he wrote.

“All the while, my feet were freezing and my knuckles were turning white,” he said of an experience that would immediately turn off anyone contemplating making the plunge into an electric vehicle.

“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,” wrote Broder.

Then while documenting his real world trip that ended by being towed to a charger on a flatbed, he noted with irony the glowing words of former Energy Secretary Steven Chu that implicitly sounded like hype. He noted the money spent by the American government on behalf of its citizens. He noted how expensive the Model S is.

The New York Times has gone on record essentially implying it is Musk who may be lying. Following that first story, Musk’s initial responses, and citing a Times article backing Broder, an observer of the situation at New York Magazine offered his views in a piece titled, “New York Times Not Sorry for Sinking Tesla Stock With Bad Review.”

And Broder also followed up justifying his report.

“Let’s answer these assertions in turn. My account was not a fake. It happened just the way I described it,” wrote Broder in a blogged self-defense, and then proceeded to account for issues for which Musk had publicly cried foul.

Fake or Not?

Without commentary, here is the evidence Tesla’s CEO presented today he says is based on data logs the company uses to protect itself from potentially dishonest journalists:

• As the State of Charge log shows, the Model S battery never ran out of energy at any time, including when Broder called the flatbed truck.
• The final leg of his trip was 61 miles and yet he disconnected the charge cable when the range display stated 32 miles. He did so expressly against the advice of Tesla personnel and in obvious violation of common sense.
• In his article, Broder claims that “the car fell short of its projected range on the final leg.” Then he bizarrely states that the screen showed “Est. remaining range: 32 miles” and the car traveled “51 miles,” contradicting his own statement (see images below). The car actually did an admirable job exceeding its projected range. 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.
• On that leg, he drove right past a public charge station while the car repeatedly warned him that it was very low on range.
• Cruise control was never set to 54 mph as claimed in the article, nor did he limp along at 45 mph. Broder in fact drove at speeds from 65 mph to 81 mph for a majority of the trip and at an average cabin temperature setting of 72 F.
• At the point in time that he claims to have turned the temperature down, he in fact turned the temperature up to 74 F.
• The charge time on his second stop was 47 mins, going from -5 miles (reserve power) to 209 miles of Ideal or 185 miles of EPA Rated Range, not 58 mins as stated in the graphic attached to his article. 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?
• The above helps explain a unique peculiarity at the end of the second leg of Broder’s trip. 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. When the Model S valiantly refused to die, he eventually plugged it in. On the later legs, it is clear Broder was determined not to be foiled again.

The Ball is in NY Times’ Court

The above points are very damaging to Broder’s story and credibility if they are indeed shown to be true.

As John Voelcker pointed out in his summary in Green Car Reports, the onus is now on the Times to rebut what Tesla says should end all discussion. Word has it that the Times is working on it now.

30,000-Foot View

After lobbing potentially painful and costly words from East to West and back, the drama has done a great job of stoking ire and passions – or disgust and disinterest – among those who have paid attention – or tuned it out.

It is clear electric vehicles have to prove themselves and are being weighed in the court of public opinion – not especially known for its jurisprudence or clarity.

Undeniable is EVs are subsidized, do cost more on average, if not a lot more, than gas counterparts. They also take longer to refuel, and there are fewer chargers publicly available to do so.

Those facts are part of the backdrop in a pointed dispute between two opinion makers – the New York Times, and Tesla’s rock star of a CEO, Elon Musk.

People on the sidelines have been offering comments siding with one or the other, while others more wisely say “show me the data.”

As a reminder, in this country, one is innocent until proven guilty. Jumping to a conclusion is not what real justice or fair-mindedness advocates, but jumping to a conclusion, many people have.

It is a world not without many biases that we live in. This society has been immersed for the past several decades in scandals and lies ad nauseum, and these have shaped the culture. Some people may be inclined to suspect the motives of one side or the other, and that’s enough to tip them toward believing one or the other may be telling the truth.

Tesla has now summarized the data, and we were sent this by a person who owns a Model S who without waiting for the New York Times’ response asked whether the next step would be to fire Broder?

Yes, maybe that could happen. Perhaps he is guilty until proven innocent in the eyes of some?

But let’s see what the Times says. To be sure it looks like it will be tough to refute the data logs Tesla summarized.

And beyond this, will it really matter? That someone “killed the electric car” is the subject of a now-old documentary, and flash-in-the-pan reactions do not make or break anything.

The Model S has many more fans who are not listening to Broder or any other negative account. This broader exposure to the car by real owners in real life will be far more influential in how EVs are received.

That the new technology is taking some lumps in the court of public opinion is without question.

If it will make it, it will make it on its merits, and mudslinging in itself, while always seeming fresh and dramatic at the moment, is really a sad commentary on the state of affairs we have today.

But, we could add, people do love a good fight, and this feeds the need.

If the Times is not able to refute Tesla, in the end, it could become a case of whatever does not kill Tesla and the EV paradigm makes it stronger.

And in the end, we hope after the fear, uncertainty, accusations, and doubt, the truth will prevail.

The truth is this: Petroleum will not last forever, and hydrocarbon emissions do the environment no good, and some solution must be found. If the challenge is huge, and the world is “addicted to oil,” then smart people do something before it’s too late, and that at least is what Tesla is undeniably trying to do.