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.
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