New York Times admits Tesla Model S writer didn’t use “good judgment” [Update]
And, lo, in the case of John Broder vs. Elon Musk, The New York Times is admitting defeat. A little bit. Sort of.
“Musk is at fault, too, for using the car’s driving logs “in the most damaging (and sometimes quite misleading) ways possible.”
Yesterday, the NYT’s public editor, Margaret Sullivan, wrote the
official* Times response to the very public dispute between the newspaper’s reporter, John Broder – who wrote a story about how a Tesla Model S failed him on a trip up the east coast – and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who called that original story a fake and then dumped a bunch of data from the car’s log to show why he used that word. Editor Sullivan admits the drive “did not go well.” In the aftermath, she says she tried to look at the facts in an unbiased fashion, eventually determining that Broder was not precise enough at times and did “not especially” use “good judgment along the way.” Musk is at fault, too, she says, for using the car’s driving logs “in the most damaging (and sometimes quite misleading) ways possible, as he defended his vehicle’s reputation.” Sullivan also says she believes Broder, “took on the test drive in good faith, and told the story as he experienced it” even as he “left himself open to valid criticism by taking what seem to be casual and imprecise notes along the journey.”
This whole story, of course, is really about the fact that electric vehicles suffer a drop in range in cold weather, which matters more than in normal cars since there is less range to begin with (not to mention it takes longer to refuel an EV’s energy reserves than it does its liquid-fueled counterparts). There are a number of factors in play, but Tesla has said range drop in the Model S is about 10 percent (which, interestingly enough, is about the same as what vehicles powered by gasoline engines suffer in such weather).
Interestingly enough, a 10-percent efficiency drop is about the same as what ICE vehicles suffer.
Consumer Reports has an interesting article up about learning how to adjust to cold-weather changes in its Model S, including a tale similar to Broder’s about running the car down to the “charge now” warning screen, but the institute managed to make it to their destination. CR writes, “To its credit, the Model S delivered 176 miles from a full charge in cold weather – considerably more than any other EV on the planet. While it was in line with what the car predicted, it proved well short of the rated 240 miles the car promised when I started, let alone the 265 estimated by the EPA or the 300 touted by Tesla.”
Meanwhile, over in take-a-step-back-ville, Grist suggests that the entire public dispute is a “sideshow” and that:
It is probably true that electric cars will never be able to replace gas cars, if the cars themselves – the widgets – are the only thing we replace. The entire system was designed and built around ICE cars. Turns out it’s difficult to build a luxurious, two-ton armored tank that can travel 300 miles on a quick-charging battery pack. The problem, however, is not merely that our cars consume too much oil. It’s that our transportation system consumes too much oil. A better system won’t merely involve better cars, it will involve driving less, telecommuting more, using more public transportation, sharing cars, making cars smarter, and building more and better electrical infrastructure.
This story is far from over, even though the facts and he-said/he-said nature of the situation seem to be solidifying. Late tomorrow, Tesla will hold its quarterly earnings call, and we’re going to bet this incident will come up. One interesting tidbit we learned in a preview article of that call is that Musk earns only $33,000 a year from his part-time CEO role at Tesla (he splits his time between Tesla and SpaceX). No one ever said changing the way the world drives was going to be easy… or instantly profitable.
*Update: Just to clarify, Sullivan’s role as Public Editor does not mean her response was “the official Times response.” She wrote that, “As public editor, I speak only for myself. My opinions about what happened during and after the Tesla Model S road test, expressed in my Monday blog post, are not those of The Times.“
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