What The Tesla / NY Times Fight Teaches Us About The Media

from the the-world-is-changing dept

For media watchers, the very public argument this week between Tesla and the NY Times has been quite fascinating. In case you happened to not be obsessively following each back and forth (what, you have lives?!?), it all began with a NY Times’ less than enthusiastic review of the experience of trying to drive a Tesla S (the company’s flagship electric car sedan) between a pair of Tesla’s new “superchargers.” You can read the full review yourself, but the short version is that it did not get the mileage expected, and at one point a flatbed truck needed to come pick up the totally dead car. I will admit that I’m impressed by the Tesla car in general, and most of the reviews have made it out to be about as close to a perfect car as you can imagine (which is pretty impressive considering that it’s the first year of the car’s existence and it’s the first “mass” produced Tesla vehicle). But this review was less than thrilled, since the whole point was to test out the ability to drive between these “superchargers.”

Upon publication, Tesla’s famous CEO, Elon Musk, began tweeting up a storm about how the article was “fake” and that he had the vehicle logs to prove it. The author of the review, John Broder, responded to many of the tweeted charges, arguing that Musk was misrepresenting things — leading many watchers to suggest that Musk was making a big mistake in attacking the NY Times.

Then, Musk published a blog post with a graphical representation of the log data they had, in which he argues that Broder lied and even purposely tried to run the car out of juice in order to write a negative story. Musk claims that after their dispute with Top Gear, they now keep logs on any media test drives (though it’s unclear if they tell reporters that before giving them the cars). And, suddenly, a lot of people flipped sides, arguing that the data won and clearly the NY Times and Broder had some answering to do. After all, there were charts like this one:

Except… then some people started to look more closely at the data and realize that perhaps Broder’s story wasn’t so crazy and Musk made a number of assumptions that aren’t necessarily backed up by the data. For example, Musk insists that Broder claimed he turned down the climate control to low to conserve energy at 182 miles, and points to the fact that at 182 miles, Broder actually increased the temperature over 72 degrees. However, as Rebecca Greenfield points out, in her piece (linked above), it really looks like Musk may have simply assumed incorrectly that the point where this happened was 182 miles, and at about 250 miles it’s quite clear that Broder does turn the climate control way down and keep it that way for a while (Greenfield added the purple box below).
Then Broder chimed back in as well explaining away most of the accusations, including the charge by Musk that Broder drove the car around trying to run it out of energy:

When he first reached our Milford, Connecticut Supercharger, having driven the car hard and after taking an unplanned detour through downtown Manhattan to give his brother a ride, the display said “0 miles remaining.” Instead of plugging in the car, he drove in circles for over half a mile in a tiny, 100-space parking lot. When the Model S valiantly refused to die, he eventually plugged it in.

Except, Broder notes, the “unplanned detour through downtown Manhattan” was not “unplanned” and had been communicated clearly to Tesla beforehand, did not actually go into “downtown” Manhattan, was partially recommended by Tesla employees who thought that the “regenerative braking” might help increase the range and only added two total miles to the trip length. Furthermore, as for the charge of driving around in circles in a parking lot?

Mr. Straubel said Tesla did not store data on exact locations where their cars were driven because of privacy concerns, although Tesla seemed to know that I had driven six-tenths of a mile “in a tiny 100-space parking lot.” While Mr. Musk has accused me of doing this to drain the battery, I was in fact driving around the Milford service plaza on Interstate 95, in the dark, trying to find the unlighted and poorly marked Tesla Supercharger.


In the end this is a fascinating story on many different levels. Dan Frommer makes an excellent point that “everyone’s a media company now,” noting that it’s possible for companies to speak out on their own behalf if they disagree with a story. That used to be a lot harder. He compares that to the Quirky / OXO story we recently covered as well.

But, of course, if you’re going to rebut charges made in a newspaper review, the information had better hold up, and it’s not clear that it does here. Even worse, it really seems like Musk is making a much bigger deal of this than ever needed to be made. Sure, the initial review wasn’t great, but it really didn’t strike me as that bad. It basically said that if you try to drive it too far, or if you’re unable to charge it enough, you might run out of juice. You know what? Same thing is true of a gas-powered car as well. But Musk has called much more attention to the story in a manner that doesn’t necessarily lead to Tesla coming out on top. Carl Malmud’s summary seems instructive:

Musk was offended that a reporter didn’t operate the hardware properly. Blame the manual, tech support, PR, but not the user.

Musk is obviously quite passionate about the companies he runs and their products. And that’s something that’s actually quite appealing. Having followed his work for a while, you know that he really is striving to build “insanely great” products. So I can absolutely understand how his first emotional reaction is to lash out at someone who wrote a less than kind review (I’ve been there myself too many times). But, in the end, it seems like there would have been much better ways to handle this. I’m still a huge fan of the Tesla, and still dream of one day actually getting one, but I’d say that Musk’s response probably made me more skeptical of the company than Broder’s original article ever did.

When “everyone is the media,” amazing and powerful things can happen. And, certainly, the ability to correct the record against questionable stories is something that really changes the game. But, at the same time, everyone is now a fact checker, and that makes for an interesting dynamic for both traditional media companies and those who wade in to respond to them.

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Companies: ny times, tesla

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Comments on “What The Tesla / NY Times Fight Teaches Us About The Media”

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Anonymous Coward says:

The Accuracy of Battery Life

There’s no real way to know how much “juice” is left in a battery, whether we’re talking about a cell phone or a car. With gasoline, you can tell exactly how many gallons are left in the tank. And while there is some variation on mileage, it’s not nearly what you see with a battery. Even having to heat the interior is probably a bit of a hit on battery life that a gas powered car doesn’t have to deal with.

What Musk never seems to address is the central issue, that the mileage given decreased a lot faster than the driver expected it to. Anyone who owns a laptop knows that “time remaining” on the battery is usually bullshit. And if cold weather and driving over 45 mph significantly lowers the efficiency, then they need to take that into account with their calculation.

PeterScott (profile) says:

Re: The Accuracy of Battery Life

” the central issue, that the mileage given decreased a lot faster than the driver expected it to…”

That isn’t what resulted in the Flatbed. He would have learned that lesson on his close call driving to Milford. He arrived with 0 Miles left, so he just made it.

Then when Tesla advised him to fully charge here, he didn’t, instead, charging to only 70% capacity.

It was on the next leg of the journey after first short charging car (against Tesla advice) and then parked it overnight in freezing temps unplugged (the car itself warns you to plug it in when cold, every time you put it in park).

So it was short charging, parking overnight, unplugged in freezing temps, that resulted in the flatbed.

This was self inflicted against the advice of Tesla support and the car itself.

Elon did a questionable attack, but the tester is still at fault.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The Accuracy of Battery Life

There’s no real way to know how much “juice” is left in a battery, whether we’re talking about a cell phone or a car. With gasoline, you can tell exactly how many gallons are left in the tank.

I do not think liquid level sensors are THAT accurate, at least the ones used on cars. Have you ever seen a car which shows the precise amount of fuel in the tank in liters, with at least one decimal digit of precision, instead of an approximate analog-looking gauge?

With a battery, you can know with very high precision how many joules went in and out of the battery. The circuit can also monitor the battery voltage, current, and temperature; combined with a battery profile, the result has the potential of being quite precise.

What the circuit cannot control is all the other variables. Things like the future vehicle speed (more speed = more drag), temperature, terrain, and so on, can all affect how long the fuel or battery charge will last. But that is the same no matter what the power source is (a gasoline-powered vehicle which attempted to calculate the “time remaining” would have the same difficulty).

The main advantage of gasoline-powered vehicles is that there are recharging stations almost everywhere, and if that fails, you can bring charge on a plastic can.

And for the laptop “time remaining” estimation, it is usually just a guesstimate based on the current voltage and past discharge curve. Laptop manufacturers do not have as much incentive to use a more precise calculation.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: The Accuracy of Battery Life

Yeah, but you could program some optimization. Set speed, input. set comfort range, (set other variable ranges) tell system to optimize power use. At that point, excluding say hills (of course with current data even this could be accounted for) the expected range might be calculated, even over a course with diverse terrain and curvy roads.

I think a test under these types of parameters would be more useful, even with non-professional drivers and diverse courses.

The variable of human interaction might eventually be calculated by driving types, aggressive, moderate, conservative, overly safe (or whatever), number of stops, weather, etc..

Tex Arcana (profile) says:

Re: Re: The Accuracy of Battery Life

In fact, gas gauges are like the rest in the instrument panel: “normalized”, which means that within a certain operating range, under certain parameters, the needle will point at a place that doesn’t necessarily reflect the actual data received.

Case in point: your water temperature gauge. Back in the sixties, even the fifties, neighbors would buy two of the same model cars; they would race, and at some point, one would be consistently slower than the other. The “slower” car would be exactly identical, except the temp gauge (which wasn’t all that accurate to begin with, or even properly zeroed or calibrated) would be reading a few degrees less, or more. Result: a rash of warranty repairs and returns, because the car was “defective”.

Of course, owners don’t want to hear the truth: every car is slightly different, and cannot be any other way. So manufacturers in the late ’60s normalized the gauges, which means when they get to operating range, they will point at dead-center on the gauge.

Fuel gauges are similar: this is why you see them, when they get toward about an eighth of a tank, the light turns on, and they drop FAST. This is done to let the driver know they best get gas AND FAST. They do mention the “reserve” in the tank, but they even minimize that, because of variability within the sender unit in the tank, electrics, and gauge setups.

So: batteries can be judged more accurately, based in voltage levels, current flows, etc; but, it’s still something of a guessing game, and an inexact science at best.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: The Accuracy of Battery Life

I do not think liquid level sensors are THAT accurate, at least the ones used on cars. Have you ever seen a car which shows the precise amount of fuel in the tank in liters, with at least one decimal digit of precision, instead of an approximate analog-looking gauge?

Yes, routinely cars fitted with fuel flow sensors can (and do) easily have you REAL TIME, Accurate fuel consumption, fuel remaining, average consumption and fuel remaining.

Yes, you can measure accurately how many joules you put into and take out of a battery, but a battery does not (always.. or even ever) give back the same quantity of energy you put into them. There are many factors that determine battery life, including temperature, load (a battery will last much longer and return more of the energy put into it if lightly loaded).

This is because batteries have an internal resistance that changes with temperature, you draw a heavy load from your batteries and the batteries consume more power, and deliver less (or more for a shorter period of time).

They also have a significant temperature coefficient that means when cold they are even LESS efficient, have a higher internal resistance, and deliver much less energy than what was put into the battery.

This also applies to charging a battery, generally you need to be 120% C (capacity) into a battery to change it up to 100% C.

So you lose energy when you charge the battery and lose energy when you discharge it, and the higher the rate of charge and discharge the more you lose.

There is simply no way to accurately predicts change remaining in a batter if conditions such as load and temperature are variables.

The problem with charging times can easily be solved by having a standard battery pack system, where you pull into a servo, slide out your flat battery and slide in a charged on, each battery has a chip to determine it’s condition and when a battery gets too old it drops out of the system and is recycled.

As fast charging batteries considerably shortens their life, all the batteries could then be slow charged and stored in warm conditions until installed in the car.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: The Limits of Interchanging Battery Packs, to: Anonymous Coward, #52

The problem is that a battery pack for an automobile is heavy. Depending on circumstances, it might weigh a thousand pounds or two thousand pounds. The weight distribution of an electric car is overwhelmingly dominated by its batteries. That means that you can’t just put the battery pack anywhere. It has to be on the centerline of the automobile, as low as possible, and most of it has to be within the wheelbase. In practice, that works out to putting most of the batteries in the space corresponding to the transmission tunnel of a traditional front-engine-rear-drive vehicle. Battery packs for electric cars are usually built in a T-shape, expanding out sideways behind the last row of seats. There are compelling reasons why different kinds of electric cars have different sized and shaped battery packs, and why attempts at standardization have failed. The only way you can insert the battery is from underneath, with a massive hoist, similar to that found in a repair garage. This is not the kind of machinery which can be self-service. With heavy machinery like that, untrained people put their hands in the wrong place and get them amputated. The Better Place people tried the battery-swapping approach in Israel, on a small scale, but they seem to have folded.

The better solution, of course, is to give the battery pack its own wheels, suspension, brakes, etc. (possibly even its own motors), in short to put it in a trailer, and add a power cable to the hitch. This makes some use of electricity’s distinctive characteristics. Of course, it would probably not be advisable to drive sports-car-fashion while towing a trailer. Doing something like this would require Elon Musk to admit that electricity is not the same thing as gasoline, and that batteries are not getting better at a Moore’s Law rate. Understandably, he has backed away from this visible sign of failure.

General Motors did its own battery research. On the basis of this research, it chose to rate its Lithium-Ion batteries at about half as much electricity per pound as Tesla did. Having made that rather dour assessment of what the batteries were capable of, GM opted to install three hundred and seventy-five pounds of batteries, and to stick in a small gas engine– to make a “plug-in hybrid,” in short. The Volt is GM’s third or fourth generation of electric/hybrid vehicle. The leader of each successive project is someone who was a junior man in the previous project, so they do have continuity of experience. They were literally working at electric cars before Elon Musk graduated from kindergarten. When people of that quality advise caution, they deserve to be treated with respect.

Successful and proven systems of electric transportation do not work around batteries– they work around the sliding electric contact. Amtrak’s Acela trains between Washington and Boston hit 150 MPH at some points, and go from Washington to Boston in a bit over six hours, or an average of about 75 MPH. This isn’t very good by European standards, of course, and certainly not by the standards of the French SNCF, and many improvements could be made to the track, if the money were forthcoming, but it is still considerably faster than a Tesla.


Tex Arcana (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 The Limits of Interchanging Battery Packs, to: Anonymous Coward, #52

The problem with this is merely engineering. GM did the HyWire (HAYwire in Germany), which was basically a “skateboard” platform with removable body and accessories. The batteries, drive systems, electrics, and controls were in the platform, and that was interchangeable.

Excellent idea, even tho GM screwed it up by trying to make it totally “drive by wire” at a time when they not only really didn’t care about making cars, but when the computer controls weren’t up to snuff in dealing with it, much less the batteries (tho I think they were trying to use fuel cells at the time).

As for “standardizing” battery packs: the key is to standardize the smallest useful package, which would then allow making a variety of shapes that can be damn near anything, depending on the space granted for the batteries.

Which brings up “transmission tunnels”: those tunnels, on FWD cars, are just there for some structural integrity. It doesn’t have to be shaped like the old-time “traditional” RWD transmission tunnel: it can be shaped like a perfect T, or even capital “I” (oh, how I hate sans-serif fonts when trying to make a point, or even have a readable piece).

Here, like this: |—-|

And it doesn’t have to be the same plane, it can be any topography needed, depending on the smallest size of the individual removable cells.

Yes, it would need an undercar lift to drop it down. But that sort of equipment is commonly used at bigger dealerships on a regular basis now, because pulling a FWD motor/trans unit requires dropping it from beneath the car; so, the hoist the car up on a two-post lift, position the motor/trans lift beneath it (usually a large-capacity scissor-lift table), run it up to support the motor, unbolt, drop. Done.

Substitute “battery pack” for “motor”, and you have the problem solved.

Lead-acid batteries are still proving to be the best sources, because of their recyclability, deep-discharge ability, and simplicity. Weight is a huge issue, but that’s is solvable as well.

Sliding contacts: require a power source easily accessible to the vehicle. Trains are easy: overhead wires. In-track contact works, but is dangerous to people. Cars… Are not easy. And if you look closely at those train contacts, they use rolling contacts instead. Better reliability.

So we’re back to batteries. And that’s an engineering exercise.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: climate

somebody correct me on this if I’m wrong, But AFAIK the bateries theoretically should drain slower.

The current in a battery is created by a reversible chemical reaction, and when it gets cold that reaction performs at a much lower rate. now, The rate at which the reaction occurs determines the current that the cell can produce. and once it gets “drained” the amount of chemical reactions has fallen below a certain below that produces a certain threshold current that is from the charging electronics determined as “empty. So, when the battery gets cold the amount of reactions slows down without using up possible “reactions”, so it can fall below the threshold currency without actually using up the chemical reaction producing the currency, so battery appears dead, while it technically is still charged.

mistakes in terminology I excuse in advance, non native english speaker here. AS I said before, that is the way I understand it, if it is substantially wrong please correct it, I actually like to learn something once in a while

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: climate

Tesla uses Lithium btteries – when cold the maximum charge level is reduced – thus if you charge up when hot then allow it to get very cold you can “overcharge” the batteries.

Most hybrid cars use NiMH cells and so behave quite differently.

Personally I wouldn’t use this technology in a car. I have extensive experience using high power Lithium cells in model aircraft and , although very good in that application they are not yet reliable enough long term to use in something that just has to work day in day out for years.

Try getting anyone who sells Lithium cells above 3AHr to offer any kind of guarantee and you will see what I am on about here.

Note that the Boeing dreamliner has recently been grounded over this issue.

Tex Arcana (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 climate

The problem Boeing is having is overheating batteries (from a combination of under- and over- charging), and them getting damaged and outgassing withing the cases. Which, akin to a cellphone battery, means the envelope or case is blowing up like a balloon, full of toxic and flammable gases, which is a MASSIVELY dangerous situation–especially to an aircraft that’s mostly plastic.

Some Formula One’s KERS systems do basically the same thing; but they do it intentionally in order to generate the MAXIMUM amount of power in the shortest possible time, or generate the maximum amount of recharging in the shortest amount of time. And that destroys the batteries. Otoh, tho, they get to toss them after every race.

Tex Arcana (profile) says:

I think Musk’s real issue was that the writer embellished portions of the story, to make the problems seem worse than they were, and to cover for his own failure to do what was necessary to operate the vehicle properly. Had Broder admitted, up front, that he had shorted the second charge, driven faster with the heat set higher, and tried to burn the batteries down by trying to do donuts in the parking lot (and there. Is no WAY it was anything BUT that!), then Musk would’ve kept his trap shut, and we wouldn’t have a story.

I think the central issue here, is that a member of the media changed significant and important parts of the story to support a mediocre or bad review of the car, which brings his credibility and bias in question.

As far as I’m concerned, NYT and Broder screwed this one up; Musk merely defended his product, and with actual data (even if he misinterpreted it, himself). And I agree with his decision to record all logs on cars loaned to media people, for this very reason.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Musk merely defended his product, and with actual data (even if he misinterpreted it, himself)

Nope, sorry, if they are both in the wrong, they are both in the wrong. If Musk hadn’t been fishing for more evidence then there was, he’d get a pass. He doesn’t though, because it is very clear he could not have been certain of his data.

Also, every review must be taken with a grain of salt and weighed against other reviews. You get a few bad ones, sometimes even high profile. Let it slide, the full range skewed to the good side shows a legitimate product. Lack of the full range is a good indication of a scam.

Musk overreacted and Broder won (a lot of negative attention). The Times will easily move past it, Tesla might have a little trouble doing so.

Tex Arcana (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:


When a “journalist” flat-out LIES about his trip, driving style, activities, and other critical items (only a “partial charge” isn’t important enough to include in the story? WTF?), it calls the integrity of the reporter AND his editors into complete question.

Did Musk overreact? Maybe, when he started screaming “lawsuit”; but the data supported his assertions (the “journalist” lied about and omitted important facts) enough to pretty much prove his point.

We’ve aleready seen, on this site alone, legions of “media outlets” that are significantly biased and unreliable; and NYT/Broder have just become a part of that legion.

Tex Arcana (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Do you even drive a car?? O_o

All automotive journal:tard:s think they’re the best drivers in the whole world; and one of the most basic things car people will do with a car that can do it, is do donuts. They’re fun, if destructive on the tires.

So: “driving in circles in parking lot” = DONUTS.


nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:


Wow, that is so far from QED it’s comical. Not only do you not have conclusive evidence, you don’t even have inconclusive evidence. You have no evidence (that you’ve mentioned, anyway). Confession? Video? Witness? All I see is logic based on assumptions that you didn’t prove. If you had demonstrated that all car people always do donuts when they can, and that this journalist is a car person, then I would agree. But you didn’t.

Joshua Bardwell (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Yes, but your gas car is also always making the same amount of waste heat, even when you don’t coincidentally need it for heating. Whereas an electric car only spends energy on heating when you actually require it. Your comment is like saying that you set your home climate control to 85 degrees and then open the windows if it gets too hot.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

your internal combustion engine makes more waste heat than it makes energy to make your car move, BY FAR…

IC engine is at best 25% efficient, usually much less, the other 75% to 80+% is waisted in HEAT !!!.

why else do you think you need fans, radiators, pressurised water, water pumps, high air flow etc. TO COOL and get rid of all that waste.

true, it is only constant when your engine is running..

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Maybe next time the reporter rides along and Tesla does the driving

According to the CNN reporter who also drove the car, “Tesla has a load of instructions to maximize battery power, and I think I followed them pretty well.”

So this doesn’t sound like a car you can hand over to just anyone and get optimum results. Maybe until the car becomes truly consumer friendly under all conditions, reporters should be taken along as passengers for media test drives.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Maybe next time the reporter rides along and Tesla does the driving

I was just thinking that if Tesla wants to make sure there are no glitches, then perhaps the company needs someone there to demonstrate.

If you want to control what the press writes about you (which isn’t easy), then I suppose you control (stage manage) the demonstration, too.

Tex Arcana (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Maybe next time the reporter rides along and Tesla does the driving

I think you’re incorrect, or at least being disingenuous.

Driving a Prius takes alot of adjustment from a “traditional” car, too; especially when the batteries go totally flat, and you’re on engine only, you’re barely crawling in some cases, and trying to hopefully not get run over by a semi while recharging the batteries (which you canNOT do with a plug).

The CNN guy drove the Tesla like a regular car, except for the stops for charging. The only real drawback is the length of time it took to fully charge (60 and 90 minutes), which turns out to have been the ONLY real difference between a gas car and the Tesla: a gas car, I can get in and out of a station in about 20 minutes, maybe 15; but when one is making a long trip, after 270 miles at 70mph, you’ve spent nearly 4 hours on your butt, and you likely need to use the restroom (10 minutes at most), get a drink and a snack (10min), or a meal (30-45min).

So plugging in, hitting the head, sitting down for a meal or a drink and snack, and then hitting the road again isn’t too far beyond what we already do with gas burners.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Maybe next time the reporter rides along and Tesla does the driving

I think you’re incorrect, or at least being disingenuous. …

So plugging in, hitting the head, sitting down for a meal or a drink and snack, and then hitting the road again isn’t too far beyond what we already do with gas burners.

Not sure I get your point. Are you saying Broder should have been able to drive the Tesla like any other car without needing to know anything about it? There is no learning curve with the Tesla?

What I have been saying is that Musk claims Broder intentionally screwed up the test drive. If something like that is a possibility and you’re a company that can’t take that in stride, then don’t give your reviewer that opportunity. If you want to make sure the test drive can’t be screwed up, then I suppose you should conduct the test drive yourself and just demo it for the media.

Look, any company that provides anything to the media for a review runs the risk of getting a bad review. You’ve just got to be prepared for that risk. Some companies only provide review products to media they know will write favorably about them. Others hand out enough review copies that they hope they will at least get some good ones out of the exercise and will ignore the bad ones. And in other cases, if the reviews are all bad, then perhaps they decide the product needs more work.

Tex Arcana (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Maybe next time the reporter rides along and Tesla does the driving

Other than the charging issues (which were directly cause by Broder’s intentional misuse), the car performed just fine.

And, really, that’s not the real issue at all: the real issue is that Broder LIED ABOUT HIS TREATMENT OF THE CAR.

Let me repeat that: BRODER LIED.

If someone accused you of driving your car into the ocean, when in fact a semi pushed you into the ocean, you would do EVERYTHING in your power to defend yourself. If someone accused you of knocking off a 7-11, you’d do the same thing, and vigorously.

If ######I###### were in Broder’s shoes, I would not only report on everything EXACTLY as it occurred; I would also disclaimer the fuck out of the conclusions, because they were done under less-than-ideal conditions, and under improper operation of the vehicle. Of course, being the type of person I am, when the car died, I would find some way to get to a receptacle somewhere, and plug an extension cord in and get enough charge to get to the next station, even if it meant taking a nap or (GASP!) spending the night somewhere.

Which Broder DID NOT DO. I do believe that falls under the “slander” label.

I would then ask Tesla, very nicely, for even more time in the car, to repeat the test, and repeat it properly. And then write an article about THAT.

See?? It’s called “journalistic integrity”.

Broder has demonstrated he doesn’t have it.

NYT, who should have made sure an accurate article was written, has demonstrated they don’t have it, either.

And yes: I should’ve done that review. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Maybe next time the reporter rides along and Tesla does the driving

And, really, that’s not the real issue at all: the real issue is that Broder LIED ABOUT HIS TREATMENT OF THE CAR.

Let me repeat that: BRODER LIED.

As I said before, if you have reason to think a journalist isn’t going to give you the review you want, you don’t give that journalist the product to review. Broder has been around for a long time. He’s written enough stuff that people should have a pretty good idea of what he is likely to write. (Like I said, I haven’t paid enough attention to his work to know if he has biases, but anyone contacting him for a review should have done that research.)

That’s what you pay a PR or marketing communication person to do: to help you get good press coverage and/or to moderate damage when you get bad coverage.

And keep in mind that now the press tends to be anyone online. So there are certainly other people who WILL lie to trash a product. So you have to learn to deal with it in a way that will help, not hurt, you.

It’s much better to say, “Sorry our product didn’t work for you the way we expected. Let’s go over things and see what went wrong. And after we review the issues you had, let’s try this again.”

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Re: The Reporter Exposed Tesla's Dead End (to Suzanne Lainson, #13)

This case reminds me of the difficulties people get into while flying small airplanes. Airplanes use fuel fast enough that, without good management, they are likely to run out, and landing an airplane is a much more involved process than pulling into a service station. Similarly, pilots have to be actively aware of the weather. It’s not something you can fix with software– it’s inherent in the physics of the situation.

The traditional standard for the kind of car which a Tesla purports to be is the Twenty-Four Hours of Le Mans. In Le Mans heyday, in the early 1970’s, Porsche 917’s were going 3000 miles in that time, and street-legal cars were managing 2000 miles. One might add that racing mechanics were trained to the point of being able to refuel a car, and change its tires within seconds, not minutes. By this standard, the Tesla is only an imposture. Now, of course, on the highway, the major limiting factor is the speed limit. Just about any gasoline car will go as fast as the Highway Patrol will permit for a couple of hundred miles.


Someone who might be a perfectly adequate highway automobile driver can still be quite unsuitable to make an airplane pilot, or a racing driver (road racing or Indy cars), or a heavy truck/bus driver, or an electric car driver. The New York Times reporter probably lacked the mental imperviousness to keep driving at 55 mph, far below the usual and customary speed, even when people were coming up behind him rapidly, angrily honking their horns, and then passing him with the closest possible margins, at the greatest possible speed, while making obscene gestures, just to make sure that he was properly humiliated. That would apply with even more force if the overtaking party is an 80,000 lb truck. In short, the reporter probably got baited into driving too fast. At the normally prevailing speeds on an Interstate Highways, that is, seventy miles per hour or so, Tesla would need to install a “supercharger” about every fifty miles. However, a “supercharger” takes an hour or more to recharge a Tesla’s batteries. So the net speed in that case might be thirty or forty miles per hour.

Some years ago, I started to hear stories about the new Apple Ipod, which I had not bought, about problems with the battery. These stories were mysterious, until I realized that, unlike any other form of portable electronics I had ever heard of, the Ipod’s batteries were soldered-in, and not user-interchangeable. My attitude about the Ipod immediately became dismissive. Batteries work best when they are interchangeable, and each customer simply owns as many batteries as he needs, or even buys new batteries and discards the old ones. If you want to recharge your batteries, it is generally better to use a special recharging machine, rather than tie down the battery-powered device.

Shai Agassi’s Better Place has attempted to develop a system for exchanging automobile batteries, using a large hoist, and I understand that this has had some very limited success in small countries such as Israel. However, indications are that Better Place is on the verge of becoming insolvent. A more practical solution might be to put a battery pack in a trailer, small enough to fit in the car’s “wind-shadow,” and not occasion much additional air resistance. This wheel-mounted battery would transfer its electricity to the wheels and the internal battery in an hour or so of driving, and then be changed for another one, without the extravagant difficulties involved in changing an internal battery pack. I claim no originality for this proposal– it was the standard method of using the horse in long-distance transportation.


Batteries are not subject to Moore’s Law. They are more like chemical high explosives, where there has been no real progress since the early twentieth century.


More basically, the genius of electricity is in flow, rather than storage, almost diametrically opposite to gasoline. If you ask, for example what an electric vehicle can do that a gasoline vehicle cannot do, the answer is that an electric vehicle can stick a trolley pole up and collect power from an overhead wire on the move. There are “auto-trains” in various parts of the world, in which you drive an automobile onto a railroad car, and are taken somewhere. Some of these trains are pulled by electric locomotives. The United States has an auto-train (only diesel-powered) between Lorton, Virginia (near Washington DC) and Sanford, Florida (near Orlando). It seems to cater to “snowbirds” going south for the winter, who aren’t up to the long drive, and who find rental-car agencies difficult to deal with (so they prefer to take their own cars, and deal with their own insurance companies back home).

There are certain structural reason why Elon Musk cannot do the technologically sensible thing. He has to pretend that electricity is gasoline, and that results in his getting caught out in lies at regular intervals.

Anonymous Coward says:

Seems to me like a skill issue

I feel like articles like the original Times article come out every few months. In a typical article, the reporter tries to do something reasonably skillful that they don’t have any experience with. We wind up with a scathing review, describing the reporter’s pain as they fail to use Twitter/install Linux/upgrade Windows/use Photoshop/etc.

I think it’s fair to say that driving an electric car is not entirely the same as driving a gasoline-powered car or a hybrid. You have somewhat different concerns, and somewhat different things to think about. In this case, Broder was used to gasoline cars, and messed up; the experience sucked for him.

Despite all the people alleging deceit or deliberate fraud, I think it’s as simple as that; Broder was well-intentioned but messed up in a way that wasn’t obvious to him, and Musk can’t see the problem because to him, the mistakes were obvious. This sort of thing happens all the time in the tech industry; the only reason people care about this debate is because electric cars in general have become a political talking point.

Anonymous Coward says:

No offense, but even if Musk’s criticisms are kind of off base, it’s clear that the reported plain did a bad job, lied at least once, and did not review the vehicle in the same way a gasoline powered vehicle would be reviewed.

Can you imagine if a reviewer was reviewing a Ford Fiesta or something similar that gets 38 or 40 MPG highway, drove it until the fuel light was on and the DTE meter said 20 miles, stopped at a gas station, put in a gallon, saw the DTE as 64 miles, drove off, ran out of gas 100 miles down the road despite there being plenty of gas stations, and then blamed the car and then wrote a scathing review?

While some of the NYT’s reporter’s verbiage can be dismissed as casual embellishment (45 vs 55 mph, turning down the thermostat earlier than he actually did, etc.), and some of Musk’s criticisms are silly (he went through downtown Manhattan! OMG!), the core problem remains.

The review ends up being mostly worthless and the reporter has lost the trust of readers and all of his reputed journalistic integrity.

The sad thing is that he could have written a scathing review and built up trust with a reliable report where he charged the stupid car properly and then harped on having to spend hours at charging stations or the battery not performing as well as could be hoped in cold weather.

There was absolutely no call to ignore the DTE/TTE meter, not charge on purpose, and then blame the car.

I don’t understand people who seem to take this schmuck’s side. Sure, Musk is a little off base and full of hyperbole, as well we expect from him, but that doesn’t in any way excuse the NYT reporter or make his excuses anything less than pitiful.

madasahatter (profile) says:

Both have egg on their faces

Broder apparently was inaccurate in his reporting of the details. Musk was oversensitive to apparent charges that EVs are not truly ready for the “prime time”.

Broder’s story does highlight one glaring problem with EVs; their recharging time to full charge. This has been a problem with EVs from 1900. The range is actually fairly minor; you can add more battery capacity and thus increase range at least in theory.

Musk is trying to defend EVs by deflecting attention away from the one real problem they still have. The pretty graphs, whether Broder drove at the “correct” speed, etc. do not change the fact that the recharging time is not very practical for many people in more typical use pattern. His apparent refusal to acknowledge the recharging problem is even more serious.

EVs were produced in some quantity until about 1920 and one the major problems was recharging time coupled with range.

Tex Arcana (profile) says:

Re: Both have egg on their faces

See my post, above: a fuel stop isn’t all that quick, and on long trips can (and usually does) take alot longer.

My truck gets about 270-300 miles on a tank, so how is that any better than a Tesla? My wife’s Focus gets around 350 or so–again, not to significantly different, ESPECIALLY when you do the sensible thing and stop for fuel WELL BEFORE you hit empty.

And after 4-odd hours of driving, a break is critical, unless you’re using a catheter or a NASA diaper.

The Tesla has made a car that meets minimum range standards that are based on the realistic ranges of regular gas cara. So how is that “not ready for prime-time”??

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Both have egg on their faces

My truck gets about 270-300 miles on a tank, so how is that any better than a Tesla? My wife’s Focus gets around 350 or so–again, not to significantly different, ESPECIALLY when you do the sensible thing and stop for fuel WELL BEFORE you hit empty.

Isn’t the issue more about how infrequently there are charging stations for the Tesla rather than its range?

Some people like to drive their gasoline cars until they are nearly empty. Others like to refuel them way before they get near empty. With an electric car requiring specialized charging options, there’s less flexibility to accommodate driver preferences.

I’m glad there are Teslas and other electric cars. But I don’t think they have ever been pitched as the primary car for the average family as of yet. The pioneers have to establish the market first and then eventually it will filter down to everyone else.

Aliasundercover says:

Still Digging

When I read the article my impression was electric cars are not yet ready for long distance trips in the winter. No surprise there, would have been news to find out they are.

When I read about Tesla’s ranting accusations of a deliberate hatchet job I came to have a deeply negative view of Tesla I never had before. If pouring over data logs and calling the person a liar is how they deal with a powerful person like a Times reporter I have to wonder how those logs will be used on a customer seeking warranty repair. Whatever went wrong the problem will be user error.

Quibbles about how to optimize the battery are quite beside the point. If you have to baby it the electric car isn’t ready.

Tex Arcana (profile) says:

Re: Still Digging

But it WAS a deliberate hatchet job, especially after it was PROVEN that the car not only did NOT need to be “babied”, it also did a long trip in almost the same time a “normal” car could.

Broder lied, got caught, he and NYT refuse to admit bias and guilt.

I honestly don’t blame Musk for overreacting; and his data logs are quite enough to prove his point.

And now it comes out that Broder is an oil company shill?? Even worse, for the NYT, Broder, and their apologists.

If I had the $$$, I’d buy one NOW. My electricity here is cheap, my truck gets 12mpg (and requires super-unleaded), and I do a 45 mile round trip daily, the Tesla would be a perfect car for me.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Still Digging

And now it comes out that Broder is an oil company shill?? Even worse, for the NYT, Broder, and their apologists.

I suppose I should know more about this, because I follow environmental stories closely. But I haven’t paid any attention to what Broder writes on energy policy. I read what the New York Times publishes, but don’t remember thinking about his biases one way or the other. I’ve never paid attention to his by-line.

However, if it is the case that he is pro-fossil fuel vehicles and anti-electric vehicles, shouldn’t Tesla have known this and maybe not given him the car for a test drive?

In other words, if a trap was set for them, shouldn’t they have anticipated this? That’s what PR is all about.

Androgynous Cowherd says:

And there it goes again.

dynamic for both traditional media companies and those who wade in to respond to | COLLAPSE ▲ |


And, of course, clicking through and then hitting “back” no longer drops you at exactly the spot you were before, but at the bottom of the page, because the things you’d expanded before have re-collapsed and the page is now shorter. Now I guess I have to right click “open in new tab” to avoid losing my place in the article listings. Will unforeseen consequences never cease?

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

A good article to read

Tesla vs. The New York Times: How Range Anxiety Leads to Road (Trip) Rage | Wired Opinion | Wired.com: “Yet after pitching the trip idea to Broder in the first place, Tesla?s own staff needed to issue carefully detailed instructions and make follow-up contact along the way to ensure he got to his destination. In doing so, they busted their own road trip myth before Broder ever left the driveway.

“If an average driver needs such hand-holding from an automaker to make the trip, it?s the wrong car for the trip.”

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

this idiot is not ‘average’ he is below average, and lied, or misrepresented the truth.

If you are designing products for consumers, you will run into your share of liars and idiots. THAT’S the point. You need to design products that are fairly idiot-proof or you at least need to prepare for the fact that those products may be misused. And the nature of social media is that even more people will share their real or imagined bad experiences. Slamming anyone who has a bad experience will only make the company look bad, and that has been the case for Tesla. Not because of the product, but because of the Musk’s response.

Tex Arcana (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

So when I run out of fuel, or lock up the motor because I refused to get oil changes, I can blame the manufacturer for “not designing an idiot-proof car”??

I don’t think you understand precisely what goes into engineering a product, not with statements like that.

Give what you said: I could call Whirlpool, and accuse them of making unsuitably usable product when my fridge dies after 50 years of misuse and neglect.

Or I can call GE and blame them for my stove blowing up in my face, despite the fact I was boiling gasoline over an open flame.

How about I call Maytag and complain that my washer shook itself thru the wall? And should I tell them I threw a load of bricks into the tub??

Do you see how ridiculous your defense of the man is? Had he done an HONEST piece (“hey, guys! I just got this tesla, and I wanna see what happens when Joe the Plumber [who I doubt would even remotely abuse it] ignores the instructions he can’t read–because we NYT people all know tradespeople are a bunch of stupid, ignorant, uneducated, illiterate boors”), this would be an utter non-issue.

Instead, NYT and Broder decided to publish a biased, incorrect, disingenuous piece that has only served to throw their entire ethical integrity into question.

As for your link to Wired: yet another Broder apologist. Talk about cirlcing the wagons. I’ll save you the effort, and reprint my comment there, here. But there are reasons I don’t read Wired anymore, or the NYT, and they’re pretty much the same. And you’re not helping your own cause, either.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

So when I run out of fuel, or lock up the motor because I refused to get oil changes, I can blame the manufacturer for “not designing an idiot-proof car”??

I don’t think you understand precisely what goes into engineering a product, not with statements like that.

But I do understand customer service. Some retailers are famous for accepting returned products, no questions asked. And others stand by a 100% money-back guarantee. They hope that by doing this, they show confidence in their products and that the satisfied customers will outweigh the bad ones.

People will screw up products and not necessarily take the blame for them. And then they will say negative things about your product online. This is the nature of dealing with consumers. Any company that wants to sell to consumers has to learn how to deal with complaints, whether they are based on reality or not.

If a customer has a complaint and you fix it, you have increased the chance of long-term customer loyalty.

You can bitch about Broder all you want, but if you are dealing with customers, you will be confronted with a full range of people. If you can do it with a smile, it will serve you well.

Tex Arcana (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

๐Ÿ˜† You’re talking to an expert in this field: I work for one of those retailers; and I serviced copy machines in my past life, where one lives or dies by exceptional customer service.

And we come back to “reasonable expectations”: if the manufacturer states certain limitations, and what steps you need to take to deal with those issues, you cannot hold them liable for your mistake. Retailers like mine have a “soft limit” on the cost of said liability: if it’s below that threshhold, it’s cheaper to just cave and be done with it.

It costs, typically, 3-5 new customers to cover the loss of one; so it’s a darned good idea.

On the other hand, clear abuse cannot and will not be tolerated. And Broder clearly abused the car.

I say again, in caps so everyone might get it:


It was a simple thing for him and his editors: just admit what you wanted to do, then do it. Don’t fib, don’t embellish, don’t be disingenuous with the entire article, just tell the truth.

Broder failed to do this. And THAT is the real issue: JOURNALISTIC INTEGRITY. Not engineering compromises leading to practical limitations–we live with those every day of our entire lives.

It still starts and ends with journalistic integrity, in this particular case. And nothing else.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:


And I am saying that if Musk hadn’t responded the way he did, we wouldn’t be discussing this.

Environmental issues and sustainability are my primary causes in life so I support companies like Tesla and want them to succeed.

However, from a PR standpoint, you either very carefully pick and choose who you let review your products or you take what you can get.

I don’t know if Broder has a bias against renewal energy, but Tesla’s PR people should know that if he does. If there is any indication they will get a review they don’t want, they shouldn’t offer the product for a test drive. Or at least for a drive that doesn’t have a company person riding along.

From your comments, I gather you don’t like media much (or at least places like the NYT and Wired). And that’s fine. But someone with your feelings probably shouldn’t seek out reviewers who work at those publications. Do you see? If you don’t trust the New York Times, then by God, don’t ask them to review your product.

Tex Arcana (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

I dislike anyone who is biased or dishonest about that bias: it’s called “hypocrisy”.

I dislike anyone who profits from their dishonesty: it’s called “stealing” (or embezzlement, or bribery, or selling votes, or selling “unbiased reviews”, take your pick).

This very thing is what’s wrong with more than just the media: it’s what’s wrong with our entire society.

In all honesty, I was prepared to believe the reviewer, because it’s well-known that the best way to know a CEO is lying is to watch his lips move; and the best way to know a CEO is stealing is to just assume so and look for the money trail.

But I was wrong.

Sure, Musk reacted; but I don’t thing he overreacted. In fact, I think he did PRECISELY what he wanted to do: get good publicity for his car by slam-dunking a biased “reviewer” and newspaper, and blowing the whole story out of proportion.

And Musk won: he got the legions of us ordinary guys who hate what things have become, because personal integrity no longer exists, to talk about his cars and technology (see the MASSIVE engineering discussions in the thread alone), and to vilify biased reporting, and the tendency of “news” corporations to kowtow to their true slavemasters.

Tesla won this one: I understand, far better than I did coming in, the capabilities and limitations of that car. And, had I the wherewithal, I would buy one IN A HEARTBEAT, because it would fill my needs very well.

So Mr Broder and his leashholders lost, Tesla won, and we have grist for our mills.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

Tesla won this one: I understand, far better than I did coming in, the capabilities and limitations of that car. And, had I the wherewithal, I would buy one IN A HEARTBEAT, because it would fill my needs very well.

Then no problem. Perhaps Broder is actually working with Tesla to generate some controversy to boost interest in Tesla. Hollywood creates fake feuds for promotional reasons. Maybe this one is a fake feud, too.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

Those of us who support environmental causes would love it if a bunch of people bought Teslas to spite the media. If people feel buying a Tesla is a way to get even with the New York Times, I hope we see more controversy like this.

And I’m sure Tesla would be happy, too: whatever it takes to sell more cars and get more charging stations across the country.

If there is a backlash that favors Tesla and generates more sales as a result, good.

aikiwolfie (profile) says:

The real lesson is ...

Telsa have to admit we have a long way to go before their electric cars can match standard American gas guzzlers.

The Times need to make sure the next time they send a reporter to review what is essentially an oversized child’s electric go-cart, they send someone who can at least operate a toaster without instruction. I think their reporter in this case would have struggled with that task.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Other problematic reviews

But this review says pretty much what Broder’s review said. And this came out weeks before the NY Times piece, so Tesla should have had some reason to expect that range would continue to be an issue and might come up in any review.

Tesla #ModelStranded: the full story – Autoweek: “Range estimations are fluid, meaning that a 200-odd-mile range can be reduced greatly while sitting in traffic. Though impressive, its range is limited, and for many that will keep it from being a legitimate alternative to other cars in its class. Even with Tesla’s amazing and much-touted ‘Supercharger,’ adding 150 miles to the car’s range takes half an hour. There are currently six active Supercharger stations in North America, with that number set to expand to 100 by 2015.

“Until recharging can be accomplished more quickly, the very best electric car ever created is still best as a second car. Which, like seemingly all green things, creates an ugly paradox; two cars where only one was needed before. That said, for those whose daily mileage rarely approaches the 200 mile mark, the Model S might provide all the mobility you need.”

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