Tesla vs. the New York Times

Last week, New York Times reporter John Broder took a top of the line Tesla Model S for a road trip from Washington DC up Interstate 95 to Connecticut. 

The trip started out fine, but as the weather got cold, the car’s battery began showing reduced range, which left him wondering if he could make the next charge station. Broder then spent part of his day driving a $100k sports car in the right lane at 54 mph. He even had to turn the heat down inside the cabin to improve his odds.

The story culminated, several hour-long charging sessions later, with the car shutting itself down along the side of the freeway. A tow truck arrived but couldn’t power the car enough to release the electric parking brake. On and on it went. Broder wasn’t especially harsh, but it’s clear he’d have had more fun making the drive in a base model Civic.

The story appeared in Sunday’s edition of the printed New York Times, and Tesla’s stock fell on Monday. That led Tesla’s co-founder Elon Musk to tweet the following:

During a subsequent interview, Musk insinuated Broder had misled his readers by driving too fast, taking a detour through downtown Manhattan, and not charging the vehicle all the way before setting out. So far, Tesla has not published the vehicle logs to back up its claims.

Meanwhile, Broder has written a detailed response to Musk, stating his review was “not a fake.” Broder claims he drove over 100 miles on the freeway at a speed below 55 mph and that, at most, he may have gotten the car up to 75 mph for a couple miles. As for the detour, Broder admits he made it but says Google maps indicates it added just 2 miles to his 200 mile trip.

Part of the problem here is that the charging stations are so far apart. If gas stations were spaced every 200 miles along the freeway, a lot of us would drive with anxiety. That said, Tesla arranged this story specifically to show off the improvement in its real-world driveability. They probably should have waited for spring or maybe until a few more charging stations were in place. Having the company founder whine about someone driving his $100k sports car too fast is certainly not the kind of marketing Tesla wants.

Charles Lane at the Washington Post points out that “Americans bought just 71,000 plug-in hybrids or all-electric vehiclesin the past two years, according to GreenCarReports.com. That’s about athird as many as the Energy Department forecast in a 2011 report.” Maybe that has more to do with the infrastructure than it does the cars per se. Bottom line, the overall system still isn’t ready for prime time.