Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Vigorously Refutes NYT Criticism

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News Posted: Thu, Feb 14 2013 10:28 AM
A few days ago, the New York Times published an article criticizing the range and performance of the Tesla Model S in cold weather. The author, John Broder, claimed that the car performed poorly in cold weather and that he eventually had to have the vehicle towed to its destination on a flatbed.

When Elon Musk strenuously contested Broder's claims of subpar performance, the author doubled down. In a follow-up article for the New York Times, Broder claims that he charged the vehicle properly, reduced his speed to 45 mph, and turned down the heater temperature in an attempt to compensate for the vehicle's fast-draining battery.

Today, Musk released the extensive data logs that Tesla keeps on the cars it sends out for review (the data logs aren't activated for consumer vehicles unless the customer explicitly agrees to it).

All of the images below are courtesy of Tesla Motors and come from Musk's own blog post.



The results are pretty damning. The highlights include:



  • The vehicle never stopped running, even at the point when Broder called a flatbed truck for a tow.
  • The battery was only charged up to a 32 mile estimated range for the final leg of Broder's trip -- even though the next charger was 61 miles away.
  • Broder's claims of traveling 45-54 mph are false. Broder kept the car at 65-81 mph.
  • Broder never reduced the cabin temperature. At one point he increased it to 74'F, up from 72F.
  • Despite nearly running out of power at several points, Broder charged the vehicle less and less at each stop he made.
  • Broder drove the vehicle back and forth in small parking lots at several points in an apparent attempt to drain the battery to the stopping point.


Computer logs aren't perfect. Sometimes they glitch, or report incorrect data. But after comparing Broder's own trip details against the data logs the Model S kept, it's clear that very little matches up with Broder's story. If this were just a range issue, or a speed issue, or a charge capacity issue, the New York Times' account of these events would have more ground to stand on.

At this point, however, either Tesla's entire logging software is flawed and reports incorrect values across the board for unrelated subsystems, or Broder sabotaged his own coverage. As someone who has reviewed a great many products, it looks increasingly like the latter.

In fact, I think Broder himself has provided the explanation (even as he denies wrongdoing). Two days ago, he wrote: "This evaluation was intended to demonstrate its practicality as a “normal use, no-compromise car, as Tesla markets it. Now that Tesla is striving to be a mass-market automaker, it cannot realistically expect all 20,000 buyers a year (the Model S sales goal) to be electric-car acolytes who will plug in at every Walmart stop."

A statement like that comes with its own preconceived set of biases baked right in. I'm willing to bet that Broder charged the car for less time each stop because, with every stop, he was reminded of how long it takes to power up an electric vehicle vs. stopping to pump gas in a tank. It became tiresome. He may have justified his behavior by thinking: "Hey, a normal family wouldn't put up with this, either. People just want to drive! I'm going to test this car the way people will want to use it!"

That's an important angle when covering an emerging new technology, particularly one that necessitates changes to a person's operating habits. But that's not the story Broder was hired to write.

Absent an incredibly compelling explanation or clear proof that Tesla's logging software is flawed, Tesla has won this round. It caught a reviewer throwing a review and lying about the conditions under which the car was tested. I'm willing to believe that Tesla's range predictor might be inaccurate, but there's no way to reconcile the charge time differences and speedometer readings.
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Dave_HH replied on Thu, Feb 14 2013 11:14 AM

I'm willing to BET Tesla's range predictor is accurate. That's such a fundamental requirement for this vehicle, it would be one of the few things they get dead right. Charge time differences have a lot of dependencies associated with them I'm sure.

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acarzt replied on Thu, Feb 14 2013 11:43 AM

The Driver's timeline may be off... but it is obvious that he did turn down the temperature at one point. And then turned the heat back up at the charge station and then turned it back off.

At the sudden decline at 400 Miles... You also see a fluctuation in the temperature in the car. It is as though he sat in the car with the heat on going no where and then eventually turned it off... Perhaps stuck in traffic? The fluctuation of speed would suggest the same.

He should have charged it more than he did on the last leg of his trip.

But despite all of that, I can understand the anxiety he must have been experiencing, wondering if he was going to make it to the next charge station. It the same as when your gas tank starts to run low and you're not sure how far the next gas station is. Except for him... There is a much great distance between locations he can fill up at. So you have to drive more conservatively and be worried about making it to the next stop the entire time! With more charge stations this will be less of an issue and you can drive the car more how you want to.

It's a $100,000 car... there should not be stipulations with how you drive it.

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I drive an electric car every day. This article appears just to be another in a long string of pieces which are written to only sell publications by invoking fear on readers that electric cars will deprive us of a freedom, the freedom to choose where "we" want to drive.

The funny thing about all the negative press I read about electric cars is it is always wrong. As an EV owner/driver I have never been left stranded without a charge, I have never frozen to death in the winter or shriveled up in sweltering heat of summer. Forgetabout the press bashing performance. My little Nissan LEAF will smoke any muscle car off the line - to bad the speed is goverened to 80 MPH because it is probably faster too.

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RWilliams replied on Thu, Feb 14 2013 12:38 PM

I think I'd quicker trust Motor Trend, which wrote a great review of the car a couple of months ago and even slapped its coveted Car of the Year award on it. Broder's claims conflict a lot of other things I've read about the car.

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Joel H replied on Thu, Feb 14 2013 1:12 PM

Acartz,

It's not as simple as saying "The reporter's timeline may be off."

He claims to have driven the car, at some length, at 54 and 45. He did not. He claims the car ran out of power altogether. It didn't. He writes that he charged the car for longer than he charged it. He drove past open charging stations when the vehicle was critically low on power.

"It's a $100,000 car... there should not be stipulations with how you drive it."

Price (and being an electric car) is irrelevant .This is about fuel. There are fuel and range stipulations on all cars.

Let's convert this to a gasoline scenario. Imagine that Exxon developed a new super-gas that could get you 5x farther than an ordinary tank of gasoline. Your test vehicle could still use ordinary gas. You were given a route map of ordinary gas pumps and super-gas locations along the corridor of your intended trip. Your job was to evaluate the efficiency of the super-gas itself.

During your trip, you fill the car with less and less super-gas each time you stop at a super-gas station. You add only small amounts of normal gas. When the vehicle is low on fuel, you drive right past ordinary gas stations. Then, evidently bored, you call a wrecker to tow the car.

If Broder had charged the car for the 58 minutes he claimed rather than the 47 minutes he actually charged it, the vehicle would've had no problems at any juncture. If he'd fully charged the vehicle at any point, he'd have had no problem.

The range anxiety excuse is spurious in this context. People who suffer from range anxiety actually *charge the car to full.*

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Dorkstar replied on Thu, Feb 14 2013 1:59 PM

I've actually read similar articles, not necessarily talking about false advertising, just that the tesla cars so far have been plagued with a lot of minor issues.  However, should you have the funds to purchase this car, I would hope you took the time to understand the risk associated with not only a new line of cars, but a new company.

 

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It is clear that Broder, the agent of the New York Times, has done a deliberate and libelous hatchet job on Tesla Motors. I sincerely hope Elon Musk files suit against them both and ruins Broder. He can go flip burgers for a living, that doesn't require a lot of honest reporting.

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realneil replied on Thu, Feb 14 2013 8:50 PM

Broder's response to Mr. Musk is here:

http://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/14/that-tesla-data-what-it-says-and-what-it-doesnt/

At this point, who to believe?

I would gladly get a Tesla if it was affordable. It's range is plenty for most of my driving, and it looks fun to drive. I would be inclined to charge it fully each time I stopped for power too.

 

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acarzt replied on Fri, Feb 15 2013 11:03 AM

Joel,

My point was really just that both side seem to be exagerrating and trying to stretch the numbers to meet their own personal needs, and I believe the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

My closing comment was irrelevant to the article, simply my own personal opinion. I would not spend $100,000 on a car that I cannot currently drive in a similar manner as a gas powered car. Given the distance between charge stations hooliganism must be kept to a minimum... and I enjoy maximizing my Hooliganism whenever I can in the cars I drive... which is why I bought a Mustang GT lol

Also, if the intent was for him to test their new charge stations, then they should also take into account how people are going to drive a car that is advertised to have 0-60 time of 4.4seconds and looks as sporty as this one does. People are not always going to drive their car like a granny, and I would be annoyed and frustrated if I was forced to drive like a granny in order to reach a destination.

It's like having a delicious cheeseburger with some fries placed in front of you(or whatever your favorite food is) when you're very hungry, and then your given a bowl of raw vegetables and told to eat those while you stare at that delicious burger that you really want... but you're not allowed to eat that burger because something very bad is going to happen to you if you do.

To me it would be like torture to sit in a car capable of so much performance, yet i'm not allowed to explore it because I have to manage my fuel consumption to the next charge station.

And I did agree with you that he should have charged the car more than he did.

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acarzt replied on Fri, Feb 15 2013 11:15 AM

Dorkstar,

Just about every new car is plague with minor (and some not so minor) issues. For example, the new 5.0 in the new Mustang... people have have the number 8 Cylinder burn up on them a few times. Some people have issues with 2nd gear on the 6 speed manual. The new 2013 has functional hood vents that dump water onto the fuse box and air intake when it is raining. That isn't an issue until your fuse box isn't sealed properly or you use an open air filter. The clutch pedal sticks to the floor during aggressive driving... etc. etc.

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RiCoFrost replied on Sun, Feb 17 2013 7:56 PM

The car looks fantastic and i love how they caught him out :) such *** boy you got owned :P

This kind of car will take time to adapt to, give it time but this kinda of car is the way of the future.

This is exactly what America needs, to not be dependent on oil for the middle east. This car can only be fantastic for Americans.

I would love to see them here in Australia.

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