War of the Words: Tesla vs. New York Times

A war for the hearts and minds of the motoring public is afoot. In the one corner, you have one of the most talked-about new cars on the market, the Model S and its builder, Tesla CEO Elon Musk. In the other corner, you have one of the most respected news outlets in the world, the New York Times, and its green energy writer John M. Broder. In this spat, Broder wrote of a Model S test drive ending with a flatbed pickup, and Elon Musk calling Broder’s BS. Sometimes the stars align for our general amusement. This is one of those times. The automotive press has been raving about the new Tesla Model S. It has been smoking some of the fastest cars in 0-60 sprints, and the long-term driving experiences have been generally positive. Broder’s February 8 review in the Times was not one of those reviews. In a trip from DC to just outside Boston, MA, the car fell short and had to be towed to a charging station. The NYT writer says in the cold weather, the range unexpectedly fell to below what was needed to make the trip. He was not pleased. When the story ran, and gained the expected traction, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, expectedly shot back. Seriously, it would have been a story had he NOT fired back, but after a twitter rant, put together this detailed report, attempting to detract from Broder’s report. Tesla went to the “game tape,” citing the logbook of the Model S used in the review. Tesla says the battery was never depleted, and Broder called for a flatbed before the car ran out of charge. The report also says that while the last leg of the trip was 61 miles, Border disconnected the Model S from the charger with only 32 miles of charge left in the batteries. There are other claims, like the fact that when the battery was low, Broder drove at speeds of 65-81 MPH, which would deplete the battery more quickly. The climate control was also set above what was optimal for range maximization. To be frank, I did not know who Broder was until this fiasco, so if it was headlines he and NYT wanted, mission accomplished. Unless Tesla switched out logs from car to car, it seems that Broder has been caught in a lie, but it begs the question of who is to be believed? The litigious, outspoken CEO who has the power to do something like change the logs, or the eco-conscious NYT writer, that could have been manipulating factors of the test to make headlines at the expense of an up-and-coming automaker. This is guaranteed to make it to the courts.