Tesla’s Elon Musk slams New York Times review

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)
February 12, 2013

Tesla chief executive Elon Musk is taking the New York Times to task for what he says is an unreasonable review of the Tesla Model S.

The prominent entrepreneur, also known for founding SpaceX and PayPal, said that a Times reviewer did not follow instructions during his review of the Tesla Model S and did not include important portions of the trip in the resulting article — accusations the paper calls “flatly untrue.”

The electric car, which is supposed to offer the ride of a high-end sedan, is advertised with a 265-mile range per charge. The company says that can get up to 300 miles, in ideal conditions. But the New York Times reviewer had several problems completing the journey between the company’s two East Coast charging stations. In fact, the car actually shut down on him during the drive after he repeatedly called Tesla personnel for help, forcing him to coast off the highway and call a tow service.

Musk questioned the reviewer’s actions, however. He said diagnostic data from the test model shows the article left out several key points, including the fact that the reviewer reportedly took an undisclosed detour through city traffic instead of the more fuel-efficient highway.

The executive also said that the reviewer didn’t properly charge the car, and drove too fast.

“He did not charge up the car to full capacity; not even close,” Musk said in an interview with Bloomberg West.

He said that the company was able to check the newspaper’s review by checking diagnostic data from the car. Generally speaking, Musk said, the company only turns on the tracking tool by request, but always keeps the tool on during press reviews.

To prove his assertions, Musk said that the company will publish the driving log from the car used for the review.

The newspaper disputed Musk’s version of the drive, and repeated what Tesla personnel told the reviewer in the story — that cold East Coast temperatures may have been a key contributing factor to the car’s poor performance.

“Our reporter followed the instructions he was given in multiple conversations with Tesla personnel,” the Times said in a statement. “He described the entire drive in the story; there was no unreported detour. And he was never told to plug the car in overnight in cold weather, despite repeated contact with Tesla.”

In the Times review, Tesla official J B Straubel said it was “disappointing” to him that the car didn’t work as planned and added that road trips in an electric car “takes more planning” than a traditional vehicle.

This is not the first time that Tesla has struck out against a negative review. In March 2011, the company sued the BBC for “libel and malicious falsehood” when the British car show Top Gear claimed its Tesla test car had a range of just 55 miles under track conditions, showed the Tesla Roadster overheating and that the brakes on the models they were provided did not work.

An English court threw out Tesla’s suit against the broadcaster last February, saying that manufacturer’s estimated ranges are always affected by their driving conditions, and there was no basis for a libel claim.

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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