Following Tesla’s throw down of cold hard data intended to leave no doubt that New York Times reporter John M. Broder fudged a run-out-of juice scenario with its 85-kwh Model S, the reporter wasted no time in responding.
Tesla’s blog post was bylined by Elon Musk and insinuated Broder demonstrated a lack of common sense and wonton attempts to show the Model S could not make a cold-weather journey.
No such thing is true, said Broder, who answered Musk’s bullet points yesterday right down the line, in order, furthering the stand-off between the two influential entities – Tesla and the Times.
Since last week, Broder had previously answered for his report based on initial tweets by Musk and subsequent comments to media that Broder’s purportedly failed journey was “a fake.”
Musk had immediately said Tesla had the data to prove it was faked as the Model S is equipped with data logging devices since the last time “journalists” for Top Gear in the UK did make up a false script showing a Roadster having to be pushed to the charger.
Electric vehicles are in general being weighed by the public, and have many detractors, some of whom have shown themselves to have questionable motives, ethics, and conflicts of interest.
As the seller of a single model of car that starts just shy of $60,000 and that is subsidized by taxpayer money and that rapidly rises in price to as much as double the starting price when including all costs, taxes, and tags, Tesla has been on the defensive following Broder’s evaluation.
As the marketer for these cars, Tesla has wanted to prove the bona fide EV revolution is here, now, aims to introduce down-market electric cars after a very positive reception of its premium sedan. Broder’s report throws what some have seen as a wet blanket on the represented capability of Tesla’s engineering and Supercharger stations.
For his part, Broder said the entire cold-weather trip was proposed by Tesla, he did all in good faith, and implied nothing in his 16 years at the Times in various high-level positions would suggest he had a bias or axe to grind.
Broder has been a White House correspondent, Washington editor and Los Angeles Bureau chief and political correspondent during his years at the Times. Since 2009, he has been the Washington bureau reporter covering energy, environment and climate change, so he was the ideal candidate for the job, but Tesla has not liked his findings one bit, and has responded with accusations, impugning Broder’s integrity.
Point / Counterpoint
You can read Broder’s entire lengthy rebuttal to Musk here, but as we did for Tesla, without commentary, we’ll post Broder’s point-by-point answers following:
• “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 car’s display screen said the car was shutting down, and it did. The car did not have enough power to move, or even enough to release the electrically operated parking brake. The tow truck driver was on the phone with Tesla’s New York service manager, Adam Williams, for 15 or 20 minutes as he was trying to move the car onto a 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.”
The Tesla personnel whom I consulted over the phone – Ms. Ra and Mr. Merendino – told me to leave it connected for an hour, and after that the lost range would be restored. I did not ignore their advice.
• “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.”
The phrase “the car fell short of its projected range” appeared in a caption with an accompanying map; it was not in the article. What that referred to (and admittedly could have been more precise) was that the car fell short of the projected range, 90 miles, that it showed when I parked it overnight at a hotel in Groton, Conn.
Tesla is correct that the car did exceed the projected range of 32 miles when I left Norwich, as I was driving slowly, and it gave me hope that the Tesla employee I’d consulted was correct that the mileage lost overnight was being restored. It wasn’t enough, however, to get to Milford.
• “On that leg, he drove right past a public charge station while the car repeatedly warned him that it was very low on range.”
If there was a public charging station nearby, no one made me aware of it. The Tesla person with whom I was in contact located on the Internet a public charging station in East Haven, Conn., and that is the one I was trying to reach when the car stalled in Branford, about five miles shy of East Haven.
• “Cruise control was never set to 54 m.p.h. as claimed in the article, nor did he limp along at 45 m.p.h. Broder in fact drove at speeds from 65 m.p.h. to 81 m.p.h. for a majority of the trip, and at an average cabin temperature setting of 72 F.”
I drove normally (at the speed limit or with prevailing traffic) when I thought it was prudent to do so. 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. Tesla’s data suggests I was doing slightly more than 50 over a stretch where the speed limit was 65. The traffic was heavy in that part of Connecticut, so cruise control was not usable, and I tried to keep the speed at 50 or below without impeding traffic.
Certainly, and as Tesla’s logs clearly show, much of my driving was at or well below the 65 m.p.h. speed limit, with only a single momentary spike above 80. Most drivers are aware that cars can speed up, even sometimes when cruise control is engaged, on downhill stretches.
• “At the point in time that he claims to have turned the temperature down, he in fact turned the temperature up to 74 F.”
I raised and lowered the cabin heat in an effort to strike a balance between saving energy and staying somewhat comfortable. (It was 30 degrees outside when I began the trip, and the temperature plunged that night to 10 degrees.) Tesla jumped to the conclusion that I claimed to have lowered the cabin temperature “at 182 miles,” but I never wrote that. The data clearly indicates that I sharply lowered the temperature setting – twice – a little over 200 miles into the trip. After the battery was charged I tried to warm the cabin.
• “The charge time on his second stop was 47 minutes, going from —5 miles (reserve power) to 209 miles of Ideal or 185 miles of E.P.A. Rated Range, not 58 minutes 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.”
According to my notes, I plugged into the Milford Supercharger at 5:45 p.m. and disconnected at 6:43 p.m. The range reading was 185 miles.
• “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?”
I stopped at 72 percent because I had replenished more than enough energy for the miles I intended to drive the next day before fully recharging on my way back to New York. In Norwich, I charged for an hour on the lower-power charger, expressly on the instructions of Tesla personnel, to get enough range to reach the Supercharger station in Milford.
• “The above helps explain a unique peculiarity at the end of the second leg of Broder’s trip. When he first reached our Milford, Conn., 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.”
I drove around the Milford service plaza in the dark looking for the Supercharger, which is not prominently marked. I was not trying to drain the battery. (It was already on reserve power.) As soon as I found the Supercharger, I plugged the car in.
The stop in Manhattan was planned from the beginning and known to Tesla personnel all along. According to Google Maps, taking the Lincoln Tunnel into Manhattan (instead of crossing at the George Washington Bridge) and driving up the West Side Highway added only two miles to the overall distance from Newark, Del., to Milford, Conn.
Neither I nor the Model S ever visited “downtown Manhattan.”
• “When I first heard about what could at best be described as irregularities in Broder’s behavior during the test drive, I called to apologize for any inconvenience that he may have suffered and sought to put my concerns to rest, hoping that he had simply made honest mistakes. That was not the case.”
Mr. Musk not only apologized, he said the charging stations should be 60 miles closer together and offered me a second test drive when additional stations were built.
Actually, this has been good for the ratings by media which are – as if it were a secret – motivated by things like page views, Internet hits, advertising revenue – in short, money and profits.
The high-level drama has been good sport, and now CNN is jumping in on the act to very publicly attempt to duplicate Broder’s journey.
It’s a guarantee CNN’s follow-up story will be read, so what can one say? Long live the entrepreneurial spirit that does not miss an opportunity.
Beyond this, Broder does not look as disingenuous as the rogues at Top Gear who played their school boy prank on the upstart Yanks from Silicon Valley.
We shall see where that goes, if it does not just fizzle out as these stories tend to do after the drama, conjecture and loosely formed opinions have played out, and had their day.