Tesla Motors Pours Cold Data on New York Times ‘Model S’ Review

Tesla Motors promised to release the logs detailing New York Times critic John Broder's road trip in the Tesla Model S electric car. They're finally available and, if they're accurate, it doesn't look good for Broder.

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Noah Berger / Reuters

A Tesla Model S electric sedan is driven near the company's factory in Fremont, California, June 22, 2012.

It’s not unusual for writers to say negative things about products they don’t like. It is slightly unusual for the companies that make said products to respond to negative reviews publicly. And it’s extremely unusual for said companies to outright brand a review from a highly respected newspaper “fake.”

But the latter’s exactly what happened in an electric car kerfuffle between New York Times writer John Broder and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk. Broder recently took a road trip in Tesla’s critically acclaimed Model S sedan, then wrote a scornful review, which would probably have been the end of the tale, but for Musk’s unexpectedly sharp reaction.

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“NYTimes article about Tesla range in cold is fake,” wrote Musk in a no-holds-barred tweet three days after the Times review went live. “Vehicle logs tell true story that he didn’t actually charge to max & took a long detour.”

Broder reacted to Musk’s admonishment with another lengthy Times piece, batting back the insinuations of journalistic flimflammery, one by one.

Musk promised to make good on his allegations and release the actual vehicle logs, and so he has, folding them into an official Tesla Motors blog post Wednesday evening titled “A Most Peculiar Test Drive.”

Like Broder’s carefully crafted review, Musk’s rejoinder is a fascinating read, in part because we’re ostensibly looking at the actual logged vehicle data (sort of like when aviation or railroad officials talk about recovering operational information from a “black box”). Some vehicles nowadays come equipped with computer chips and sensors capable of monitoring and logging everything from how fast or slow you were traveling along a given stretch to precisely how much force you used when applying the brakes at a stoplight. (Musk stressed in a followup tweet that “Tesla data logging is only turned on with explicit written permission from customers…”)

Let’s walk through a few of Musk’s rebuttals and compare notes. According to Broder in the review, toward the end of his road trip, the Model S ran out of juice completely, leaving him temporarily stranded.

…as I limped along at about 45 miles per hour I saw increasingly dire dashboard warnings to recharge immediately … “Car is shutting down,” the computer informed me. I was able to coast down an exit ramp in Branford, Conn., before the car made good on its threat.

At this point Broder actually called Tesla to help him tow the car, thus providing the Times‘ dramatic article-headlining photo of the tow-person standing beside the Model S loaded onto a flatbed truck — a situation further complicated, according to Broder, because the Model S wouldn’t allow the “electrically actuated” parking brake to be released off a dead battery. That reportedly added 45 minutes to the flatbed loading process.

But according to Musk, the Model S actually had juice at all points during Broder’s test:

As the State of Charge log shows, the Model S battery never ran out of energy at any time, including when Broder called the flatbed truck.

It’s not clear what “never ran out of energy at any time” really means, of course, so we can’t call it flatly in conflict with Broder’s account, which was simply that the vehicle’s display indicated the car was out of juice. Was the display calibrated correctly and working properly? Musk doesn’t say. Batteries that appear to have run out of oomph can still hold some charge. Anyone who’s reset the D-cells in a standard-size flashlight to get a couple more seconds of light knows this.

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But at an earlier point in the trip, Broder writes in his review that he “noticed that the estimated range was falling faster than miles were accumulating,” at which point he writes he tried to follow Tesla’s guidelines for maximizing range, including dropping the temperature and setting the cruise control at a more efficient speed (in this case, 54 miles per hour). “Buicks and 18-wheelers flew past, their drivers staring at the nail-polish-red wondercar with California dealer plates,” he quips.

Not so, says Musk, stating that the logs indicate Broder never set the cruise control to 54 m.p.h., never “limped along” at 45 m.p.h., and “in fact drove at speeds from 65 mph to 81 mph for a majority of the trip and at an average cabin temperature setting of 72 F.” At the point Broder claims he turned the temperature down, Musk says the logs indicate he actually turned it up to 74 F.

Now we’re getting into the sort of detail and specificity I’m having a hard time imagining someone explaining away to interpretation or misunderstanding (again, assuming Musk’s data is both accurate and properly aligned with Broder’s timeframe).

It gets worse: Broder indicates in the review that he charged the car at Tesla’s solar-powered Supercharger stations until the display read “charge complete,” but Musk says the car’s logs tell a different story, showing that Broder repeatedly failed to fully charge the car and at one point actually disconnected the charger on a 61-mile stretch despite the range indicator showing that only 32 miles worth of power had been charged up.

“Despite narrowly making each leg, he charged less and less each time,” writes Musk, adding “Why would anyone do that?” Again, if the data’s being properly interpreted here, it’s a reasonable question.

But the most alarming point in Musk’s rundown is probably his last, where he surmises Broder intentionally attempted to sabotage the vehicle’s range by driving in circles:

The above helps explain a unique peculiarity at the end of the second leg of Broder’s trip. 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. On the later legs, it is clear Broder was determined not to be foiled again.

[Update: In an email to Daily Intelligencer, Broder claims this is because he was hunting for the “unmarked and unlighted Supercharger port in the dark” and that he was “not trying to drain the battery.”]

To be honest, after Musk’s initial tweets, I was feeling defensive of Broder. Here was a seemingly well-crafted review (say what you will, Broder’s an enjoyable writer) of Tesla’s wunder-car that happened to come down hard on Tesla. Assuming Broder’s writing was on the level, that’s just how product reviews sometimes go.

That said, having now absorbed Tesla’s log-driven response, and assuming the vehicle’s sensors were accurate and that Musk isn’t himself misreporting anything, it’s much harder to square Broder’s report.

Bear in mind this wasn’t a “taste” review, so you can’t really play the “opinion” card. Broder speaks briefly (and with high praise) of the Model S’s aesthetics, but the bulk of the review comes down to operational metrics and hard numbers, which is why Tesla’s pushing back so forcefully. Musk believes the numbers are on Tesla’s side, and while Broder deserves a chance to respond in kind, staring down all that data, I’d hate to be in his shoes just now.

[Update: Broder has published his point-by-point response to Musk’s data-related allegations in the Times‘ “Wheels” section, in which he in so many words says he was following Tesla’s advice by way of several phone calls made during the trip, thus indicating the choices made about when to recharge and how much to recharge were in fact based on advice from Tesla personnel. Broder also points out, it seems reasonably, that at least a few of Musk’s extrapolations from the vehicle log data are misinterpretations or misrepresentations of what he wrote in his original review.]

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26 comments
EagleLefebre
EagleLefebre

Tesla, is that Nicola Tesla, the inventor of the mid 1800's to 1930's, who the U.S. gov't at the time turned their backs too? He's probably dancing in his grave knowing that a "car" has been named after him and the like.

UnclePhil
UnclePhil

Perhaps Mr. Broder could take another trip with a Faithful Observer at his side.

jpolk84
jpolk84 like.author.displayName 1 Like

My take away is if I have to do half of what Tesla and the NYT says I have to do just to drive an electric car from New York to Boston, give me 2 gas guzzlers!

mgwitham
mgwitham

So Telsa Motors has received some heat today...


The problem with people’s perception on Tesla Motors is that it’s viewed as an auto company.

It is. But it’s so much more...

Let’s take a look at what Tesla Motors represents and what they are really doing to shape our world.

Tesla Motor’s technology is novel. It’s never been done before. They’ve solved the electric car puzzle; speed, power, range, battery life, re-charging, design, sex appeal. All wrapped up into the Model S. The car performs at the highest level and the company has only been around for 10 years. They’ve leap frogged century old companies who have had millions of design and engineering hours under their belt.

That’s the physical. Now lets go to the emotional.

Tesla isn’t a car company. It’s a movement. It’s a shift into a new era of humanism. Tesla has built a machine that demonstrates responsibility. Not only responsibility to auto performance, but responsibility to mankind and mother earth. The car is designed to make people feel good. The car is architected to move us away from fossil fuels while maintaining the integrity of fossil fuel based engines. I’ll put the supercharged Model S against any street legal car in an ⅛ mile sprint. The car is a symbol of progress.

The progress of human conscience. We are smart creatures that can dream big and execute on those dreams. Elon Musk, God bless him for his chutzpah, has/is pushing us forward through his vision and leadership. He understands the balance of economics, science, technology, community, civilization and most importantly...how to ensure we survive as a species. He isn’t building Tesla Motors or Space X for his life. He’s laying the infrastructure and thought process for his children...and his children’s children...and his children’s children’s children. This is a long play. A bet he’s funding for the rest of us to reap. Thank you! Some of us appreciate what you’re doing.

So... to the people who are throwing stones...stop.

You are the people who are keeping us stuck. You are the people who are keeping us from progressing. You are the people who are toxic to innovation and toxic to creating a better world.

This isn’t a car company. This is a symbol of the progression of humanity. So be mindful of that. Be mindful that your criticism sounds like the haters who said the Wright Brother’s couldn’t fly...or the haters who said Columbus couldn’t sail past the horizon...or the haters who said we didn’t need automobiles because we already have horses. Don’t be those people. Because it’s not only you who are affected. It’s me. You are robbing me of seeing and participating in progress. The progress of mankind. The progress of ensuring we are living a life of meaning. I only have 100 years in this life, and I want it to be useful. I want to be apart of the generation who put humans on mars, and who designed evergreen products that can be reused for hundreds of years. Don’t take this away from me.

Be apart of it. Don’t inhibit it.

...And think of this...only four people have sent a rocket to space and had it return; Russia, China, USA...and...Elon Musk.

EVOwner
EVOwner

@mgwitham Were you also a Segway fanboi?

mgwitham
mgwitham

@EVOwner No Segway suck. They aren't changing humanity

jpolk84
jpolk84 like.author.displayName 1 Like

@mgwitham Oh brother. Seriously? First of all, the Tesla isn't solving any big problems. Until an electric car breaks even the 200 mile mark on a charge, it's dead. Second, the "energy crisis" is that we're not using the resources we have. Now is not the time for electric cars. It's the time to build them, make strides, but it's not the answer now because they are severely limited. Third, "four people" didn't send a rocket into space. Four countries did and they represent thousands of people. I appreciate your sentiment but it's a bit euphoric. No one is taking anything from you. In fact, it's not yours, it's out there being done by others and wishing it to be what it isn't is not going to make it happen. Neither is forcing 74 mile-per-charge cars on a public that doesn't want them or find them useful. I can tell you 74 miles might work in the city but in the burbs it won't get me into the city and home.

ShaolinWind
ShaolinWind

Broder & NYT just got lambasted. And rightfully so. shame on you both.

AlexSal
AlexSal

Élan launched a space x rocket up NY times

ChasL
ChasL

Not sure where the "highly respected" bit came from. NYT is notorious for its activist journalism. Take the recent China hacking stories, fact check what NYT wrote about the Aurora Hydraq malware two years ago. NYT claimed it contained a special "Chinese fingerprint" code that didn't exist outside China, but that code turned out to be the "Nibble CRC" algorithm known since late 80's.

To date, NYT never corrected this story, and continue to quote the discredited source, Jew Stewart.

YngwieFM
YngwieFM

If they'll lie us into a war in Iraq, you think they wouldn't lie about an electric car? BTW what connection does starting a war in Iraq have with shutting down the electric car industry? Rhymes with 'loyal'.

GodshuffledhisfeetAnovel
GodshuffledhisfeetAnovel

Tesla-Space X-and Elon Musk to save mankind!!Fun and fast paced new science fiction novel

A must read--God Shuffled His Feet—A Novel by Mark Ellenbogen

Available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads.

Exciting fun novel with a humorous apocalyptic twist.  Elon Musk-Tesla and Space X help save mankind from total destruction!  Meet astronomers Ravi Najir and Sam Klein, two PHD doctoral students from Humboldt, California, about to have their world turned upside down----literally. The duo wins a $250,000 grant and a coveted year long viewing slot using the Hubble Space Telescope to observe the heavens. Little do they know that what they are about discover, will rock the Earth, their lives, and the heavens all at once!  

High in the far reaches of space, up where the Crab Nebula is supposed to be, a new solar system has formed and Klein and Najir are about to discover it.  Within minutes of accessing their chosen Hubble coordinates, two new celestial bodies are discovered where none existed before!! 

Dubbing their discovery the Master Kush Formation; the two unlikely heroes are quickly rocketed to fame and glory over night. A new sun and a fully habitable blue-green planet have taken the place of the Crab Nebula.  God plans to wipe the Earth clean and start over!!!

The clock is ticking and time is running out.  Only a few will make it.  The boys enlist the help of Elon Musk, Tesla and Space X to manage the technology and transport the saved.   Do you have what it takes?  Open up God Shuffled His Feet for the ride of your life!!  Peppered with interesting trivia, thoughtful humor and some suspenseful science fiction God Shuffled His Feet will entertain while provoking some thought in the process.

jpolk84
jpolk84

@GodshuffledhisfeetAnovel But Elon's ship would get them to the Moon, where they would have to stop and recharge. They would have to coast into Mars. From there it's get's sketchy where they eventually run out of charge but are pretty sure momentum will get them within a few light years of the new solar system.

zetetic25
zetetic25

Let's call the route taken "Broder's Folly" and use it for a test metric henceforth.

GerardPlourde
GerardPlourde

It will be interesting to hear the response from Tesla Motors concerning Mr. Broder's allegation that he was following their advice during the test drive. I'm not optimistic that the actual conversations will help him as this statement basically concedes the truth of Mr. Musk's objections. From here it appears that in order to differentiate his auto review from the standard ones available in any number of news outlets Mr. Broder intended to pursue the failure angle. The sad consequence is that the erstwhile "new" journalism has come to infect the Times. Where can one find the dispassionate objectivity that allowed the Times to claim the title of "newspaper of record"?  

Logical_Thinker_
Logical_Thinker_ like.author.displayName 1 Like

CNN just re-tested the exact same trip, and guess what: They finished with many miles of range remaining.

NYT reporter himself admitted he didn't charge the car FULLY.

News Flash: Electric Cars must be FULLY charged for FULL range. Kind of like Gas cars must be fully filled for full range.
Funny how that works, hey?

money.cnn.com/2013/02/15/autos/tesla-model-s/

FishyLuvSite
FishyLuvSite

As a journalist and an author, as well as a radio announcer, I dread our weekly staff meetings for this very reason.  Because no matter how hard I try, I always let some aspect of my emotion or imagination into my statements as to what went wrong with this or that equipment, this or that shift.  Then the engineers, who think only in straight lines and facts - and have all the data logs to prove it - crucify me.  I have sympathy for Broder, but he should have known better than to "interpret" anything in his experience.  He should have stuck to the facts, the facts, and nothing but the facts.  Sure, he wrote an entertaining story, but now the engineers have crucified him.  And trust me, it doesn't take long till the bosses take notice and start wondering whether everything you tell them may be a bit exaggerated.

jonjondelasouza
jonjondelasouza

One would be naive to ignore the fact there are very powerful forces at work to sabotage the success of electric vehicles. It's no coincidence that with all the technological prowess we're capable of, we don't see a wide adoption of electric cars and r&d invested in the technology.  Thankfully, Ellon Musk is an independent entrepreneur and visionary who made his fortune as a dotcom entrepreneur in the silicon valley.  If it wasn't for his financial independence and the respect he commands in the Valley, we wouldn't have a Tesla nor any alternatives to turn to, except the same old oil controlled technology we've had for over a century. Now it would be very naive to assume that a journalist working for the New York times, which is controlled by oil lobbyists, wouldn't follow an agenda and be briefed before setting out to do this "fake" review.

Common_Denominator
Common_Denominator

God help Tesla owners that experience a failure and try to explain that they are not at fault to the Tesla service manager.  Also I suspect that Tesla will find that the line-up of willing auto test drivers will be a lot shorter.

GerardPlourde
GerardPlourde

@Common_Denominator Now that it has been disclosed that Mr. Broder was less than objective and forthcoming in his story we may also find fewer auto manufacturers lining up to allow him to review their cars.

collarge
collarge

I dont think anyone should underestimate the importance of the electric car revolution. Countries have gone to war over oil pipe lines. This is bigger than any oil pipe line once the company with the technology makes this affordable or accessible to everyone. The indirect control over patents and powerful lawyers that oil companies are trying to derail this revolution, is incredible. The technology is here, combine the latest batteries, with lightest materials and motors in the wheels and the future is hear already. Range, Power and economy will be way past what anyone could imagine once this takes off. But the fight for who owns the keys is going to be just as powerful. And this is why Musk is so passionate about it, he knows it.

BartMillikan
BartMillikan

Is it the culture of the New York Times or just Mr. Broder? 

NaveedXVO
NaveedXVO

Flim-flammery from the New York Times? say it ain't so!

Bbrhuft
Bbrhuft

Driving in circles is really hard to explain, it was the coup de grâce. It really paints a picture of the reviewer trying valiantly to make the car fail, but he failed in the end.

Mr.Wallingford
Mr.Wallingford

One of these days we'll have drive-and-charge wireless charging for EVs, stretches of highways that recharge your vehicle as you cruise along using pay-as-you-go stickers (like tollways) or wi-fi links to pay. We have the technology (didn't Nicola Tesla invent wireless charging?) and know-how to do it, just need to make it happen.