Tesla's Elon Musk v The New York Times, Round 2
'Is this the right room for an argument?'
There's no love lost between Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk and New York Times reporter John Broder this Valentine's Day, with the debate over the accuracy of Broder's recent review of the Tesla Model S having devolved into a bitter display of online "he said, she said."
The public spat first erupted on Monday, when the paper published Broder's account of his attempt to complete a long-distance drive in the Model S that ended with the car running out of power and spontaneously shutting down.
The notoriously combative Musk lashed out on Twitter, deriding Broder's report as "fake" – a charge the reporter firmly denied – and insisting that the telemetry data Tesla had gathered from the vehicle would tell the true tale.
As promised, Musk published Tesla's analysis of the data from Broder's drive on Thursday, along with a lengthy personal interpretation in which he claims that "hundreds of journalists" have test-driven the Model S without incident, with Broder being one of very few exceptions.
According to Musk, Broder's past articles demonstrate that he has a deep-seated disdain for electric vehicles in general, and when put behind the wheel of a Model S, he deliberately ignored instructions and "simply changed the facts" to achieve a negative outcome – something Musk says is backed up by Tesla's data.
Reading the post, one can almost picture Musk sneering as he writes, "While the vast majority of journalists are honest, some believe the facts shouldn't get in the way of a salacious story."
Broder, naturally, disagrees with all of it. In a rebuttal posted to The New York Times's "Wheels" blog, he counters Musk's claims punch for punch, in an exchange that is likely to leave most readers unsure of who to believe. We'll give you the gist of it here:
Musk: Broder claims his battery ran out of charge, but that never happened.
Broder: Maybe it didn't, but the car spontaneously shut itself down anyway and had to be towed.
Musk: Broder insisted on driving the car when it wasn't fully charged. During one stop, he deliberately quit charging it at 72 per cent charge.
Broder: According to the range meter at the time, that should have been more than enough for the trip.
Musk: At one point, Broder stopped charging the car and tried to drive it 61 miles when the range meter said it would only go 32 miles, against the advice of Tesla employees.
Broder: On that occasion, I charged the car exactly how Tesla staff told me to.
Musk: Broder drove right past a charging station when he could have stopped and charged the car some more.
Broder: Where was it? Nobody told me about it.
Musk: Broder says he set the cruise control to 54mph, when in fact he drove at between 65mph and 81mph for the whole trip.
Broder: That's not how I remember it. Maybe the calculations are wrong, because Tesla actually sent me a car with the wrong size wheels.
Musk: Broder took an unplanned, lengthy detour through downtown Manhattan to purposefully drain the car's battery further.
Broder: I took an approximately two-mile detour through Manhattan – not downtown – just as I told Tesla I would.
Musk: Broder started out with the cabin temperature at 72°F (22°C) and later raised it higher, even when the battery charge was growing dangerously low.
Broder: I raised and lowered the temperature several times, to balance between preserving the battery and keeping warm. It was 30°F (-1°C) outside.
Musk: Broder was so determined to run down the battery so he could give the Model S a bad review that he drove in circles in a parking lot.
Broder: I was looking for the charging station. It was the middle of the night, the parking lot was dark, and the Supercharger wasn't prominently marked.
... and so on. Broder ends his rebuttal by repeating a point he made earlier: that Musk actually telephoned him upon hearing about the difficulties he experienced and offered him a second test drive. The second test was to happen once Tesla had built additional Supercharger stations on the East Coast, so that the charging stops would be closer together.
From the sound of it, however, that offer is now withdrawn. As Musk writes, "When I first heard about what could at best be described as irregularities in Broder's behavior during the test drive, I called to apologize for any inconvenience that he may have suffered and sought to put my concerns to rest, hoping that he had simply made honest mistakes. That was not the case."
Musk has called upon The New York Times to "investigate this article and determine the truth," adding, "You are a news organization where that principle is of paramount importance and what is at stake for sustainable transport is simply too important to the world to ignore."
The paper has yet to issue a formal statement on the matter.
In the meantime, CNNMoney automobiles writer Peter Valdes-Dapena is conducting an investigation of his own by duplicating the exact route Broder drove from Washington, DC, to Boston, Massachusetts. Something tells us this isn't the last we'll hear on this issue – even if we wish it were.
The Balance Of Evidence
This second round of claim and counter-claim brings some useful additional data to the table. Fortunately, we can ignore most of it, as stated here, as a bit of "he said, she said". What we can't do, however, is ignore the facts.
Our NYT journalist, in their article, made very clear mention of the fact that they used cruise control in order to preserve battery life. If you look at the analysis data provided by Tesla, it is impossible to spot any period of the test drive during which cruise control was active - the vehicle speed is just a series of irregular spikes, even when on a sustained run. Point 1 to Tesla...
Where our NYT journo did get specific about aspects of the journey - for example he was very clear and precise in terms of reporting different vehicle speeds, taken from the dashboard of a car on which the speed is very, very easy to read. The data from the trace - and this is clearly visible - reports very different speeds. Point 2 to Tesla...
Our journalist is also very specific about the timing of charges during the journey. Once again, the Tesla trace data reports this very differently. It is important to note with this point that whilst in his latest response our journo replies with the answer that he was doing what the people from Tesla told him to do... or that he stopped charging when the range indicator said the vehicle had enough charge... Thinking about that, it almost makes sense on the surface. However, if you gave me a car capable of 40mpg for a test drive, and I put 2 gallons of fuel in the tank for a 50 mile drive, I think you'd agree that in reasonable conditions it would get me there. But if I drove around at 6000rpm in 1st gear, chances are it would not. So the response that "I stopped charging when the guage said I should get there..." is a little specious if the unfinished remainder of the sentence is, "... and then drove like a plonker to ensure I wouldn't." Point 3 to Tesla.
Final thought. Whilst I'd concede that Musk's rebuttal is a bit heavy on the righteous indignation, it is very clearly supported by graphically presented, factual data, captured from the actual vehicle performing the actual test drive. I notice with keen interest that whilst the journalist is very heavy on responses, at not one point does he respond with: "Your data is wrong." That speaks volumes.
[ Oh, FWIW, I'd consider myself a complete petrolhead and have zero interest EVs... but in this case it looks like a journalist being caught out trying to make up a salacious story and being caught in the act... ]
Re: Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk arguments are pathetic
>> 1. Musk says his car failed because it was not fully recharged.
No he didn't.
>> 2. Musk said his car failed because the journalist attempted to keep the interior temperature more than 42°F warmer than the exterior temperature.
No he didn't..
>> 3. Musk said his car failed because the journalist drove it faster than 54mph.
No he didn't.
>> 4. Musk said the car failed because it was driven in a city.
No he didn't.
>> 5. Musk said the car failed because the journalist passed by a charging station without stopping.
No he didn't.
Re: It Must Be User Error.
@jr424242: No, Apple. He's driving it wrong.
Mines the one with the faux turtleneck.
Re: Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk arguments are pathetic
>1. Musk says his car failed because it was not fully recharged.
Musk said the car was not recharged to the point where the range indicatior specified that the journey could be completed, in fact, it specified MUCH less range (32 miles for a 61 mile journey)
>2. Musk said his car failed because the journalist attempted to keep the interior temperature more than 42°F warmer than the exterior temperature.
No, the NYT said that the heating needed to be reduced to save power when the journo actually increased it
>3. Musk said his car failed because the journalist drove it faster than 54mph.
No, again, the NYT said that the car had to be driven at low speeds to prevent running out of fuel, the telemetry show that this did not happen, it was a lie.
>4. Musk said the car failed because it was driven in a city.
No, Musk said that the car was taken on a detour which added miles to the journey
>5. Musk said the car failed because the journalist passed by a charging station without stopping.
No, Musk said that the car showed 0 miles range 20 miles of the journey, during this time the journo did not stop at charging stations that were available.
You should learn read better like.
Re: They're both full of $#!T
That is only true if you make two huge assumptions Donald.
First, that CEO Musk is completely accurate and telling the truth.
Second, that the car recorded the data accurately.
I see no reason to make those either of those two assumptions, let alone both of them.