Was a NYT’s Scathing Review of Model S an exercise in link baiting?

February 14th, 2013 § 2 comments

A few days ago I read a New York Times piece Stalled on the EV highway and was quite surprised by the miserable experience that Mr. Broder had with his Tesla Model S. So much so that I checked out previous articles the author had written to see if, like the folks at Top Gear, he might have an axe to grind with electric cars. While he has a lot of articles covering the oil industry none of it seemed to particularly biased and would actually be quite normal for someone covering the environment beat. I chalked the poor cold weather performance of the car up to weak software and assumed Tesla would release some updates to help address the conflicting reports Mr. Broder got from his car. Clearly I jumped to that conclusion too quickly however as Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of Tesla, has been on the warpath since the article came out. I don’t feel too bad though as it looks like Mr. Broder did not think his car, owned by Tesla, would keep a log of everything he did. Wired reports that:

According to Tesla, Broder was given explicit instructions for his drive: Keep the speed at 55 mph and turn down the climate control. Broder claims to have set the cruise control at 54 mph, and at one point he writes that he “limped along at about 45 miles per hour.” However, the logs released by Tesla show that he drove at speeds ranging from 65 to 81 mph, and kept the interior temperature at 72 degrees, increasing it to 74 degrees at one point.

In an interview with Fox News Mr. Musk took it a bit further claiming that it appeared Mr. Broder was set upon getting a picture of the Model S on a tow truck. He drove past multiple public charging stations and even “disconnected the charger with an indicated range of 32 miles, despite planning to drive 61 miles.” He even, apparently, drove in circles around a charging station in what Musk assumes was a deliberate attempt to run out of juice. “If someone were to do a test drive of a gasoline driven car and filled up the car and filled up the car to a quarter tank, drove past several gas stations until it came to a stop what would you think of that reporter?”

Tesla has so far declined to release the raw data1 and Mr. Broder is working with his editor on a rebuttal. Mr. Musk is obviously biased toward believing that the Model S is a fantastic car and could not possible have performed as poorly as it did. Mr. Broder and his editor have a vested interest in getting more page views and it’s hard to stand out when your review is as positive as all the others out there. It’s Motor Trend’s 2013 Car of the Year after all. I found the article through a 3rd party and I’m guessing the only reason they linked to it was because it was out of the ordinary. Short of some sort of mea culpa from the intrepid report I doubt we will ever know for certain what really happened on that cold winter day. I suspect the truth lies somewhere between Mr. Broder’s account and Mr. Musk’s reading of the logs.

Update (2/14 4:45pm)

Mr. Broder has posted his point-by-point response to Mr. Musk’s accusations. He maintains that everything he did was in line with what he was told to do by Tesla phone support.

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.

He also states that he did not know about the charging stations he passed, again he was being directed by Tesla support staff, and denies trying to deliberately drain the car.

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.

He finishes by denying that Mr. Musk apologized for any inconvenience he had.

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.

  1. The data has been released. []

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§ 2 Responses to Was a NYT’s Scathing Review of Model S an exercise in link baiting?"

  • Ben says:

    All sounds very suspicious, but not releasing the logs is pretty shady. Might be really hard to prove they weren’t doctored, I suppose? I’ll usually take a reporter’s word over an exec. … NYT? Maybe the Chinese hacked the article? : )

    • Thomas Paine says:

      The full logs have been released and Mr. Broder has posted his response. I’ve updated the article with a link and some quotes. I still think the truth lies somewhere between their accounts.

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