Tesla, NYT fight continues over review


In this June 22, 2012 file photo, Tesla workers cheer on one the first Tesla Model S cars sold during a rally at the Tesla factory in Fremont, Calif. (Paul Sakuma/AP)
February 15, 2013

Tesla and The New York Times are continuing their dispute over a review the newspaper published last week that gave the range of the Tesla Model S and the company’s East Coast network of supercharge stations a poor grade.

Following a data-based attack on the article from the car company published with information from the review unit’s logs, the Times reviewer countered with his own point-by-point response to Tesla chief executive Elon Musk.

The main point John M. Broder tries to get across in his piece is that he certainly did not set out to sabotage Tesla’s reputation with his review — the heavy-hitting claim that Musk made in his post Tuesday, when implying that Broder changed facts to fit his opinion.

“I was delighted to receive the assignment to try out the company’s new East Coast Supercharger network and as I previously noted in no way anticipated — or deliberately caused — the troubles I encountered,” Broder opened.

Broder’s more-detailed account answers some of the questions raised by Musk’s data dump, such as why he circled a parking lot when the car’s battery was low (he was looking for a charger) and data that Musk claims show Broder was driving too fast and had the heat on too high after being told that doing so would drain the battery.

Elon Musk, chief executive officer of Tesla Motors Inc., talks about a review of the company's Model S electric sedan by the New York Times. Musk speaks with Emily Chang on Bloomberg West. (Source: Bloomberg) (Bloomberg)

The reviewer said he was trying to keep pace with traffic and trying to strike a balance between “saving energy and staying somewhat comfortable” in sub-freezing temperatures, which can affect battery life. He also reiterated some points he made in his first follow-up post, most notably that his test was meant to be one that tested how practical it is for an average person to use an electric vehicle. That, he said, accounts for instances where he didn’t fully charge the battery but only juiced up the car so that it would go the distance that he needed.

Broder also said that a caption that went along with his article that states the car missed its range estimates in the final stretch of his trip was imprecise. In the very last portion of the trip, he said, the car did have a projected 32-mile range but actually drove 51 miles. The graphic, he said, was referring to the final leg of the journey — as in the distance between two of the company’s superchargers — in which the car was projected to go 90 miles.

There are some discrepancies between the data and the original article that Broder can’t explain, he said, such as a portion of the trip where he remembers — and reported — driving slower than the data show. He speculates that this could be because the tires on the review car were smaller than the standard issue tires.

So now that there’s been — as my Post colleague Erik Wemple put it — a “rebuttal to the rebuttal,” is the conversation over? Not by a long shot, according to a post from The New York Times’s public editor, Margaret Sullivan.

“This blog post will not be the definitive word on the contentious subject of a Times article in Sunday’s Automobiles section,” Sullivan wrote. “It’s just an early effort to put some claims and counterclaims out there, while I continue to look into it.”

Throwing a little more fuel onto the fire, a CNN reporter just completed a test drive of the same route — though in different climate conditions — and reported that it had 70 miles of project range to spare.

Related stories:

Erik Wemple: Tesla vs. New York Times: The 45 mph problem

Wonkblog: What’s at stake in the fight between Tesla and the New York Times

Tesla releases car’s log data to counter negative review by NYT

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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