KSJ Tracker February 15, 2013

NYTimes Public Editor wading into Broder v. Musk fight over review of Tesla electric car's long-trip ability

  A post earlier this week related the rapid and angry rebuke from the Tesla Motors Company, led by its CEO Elon Musk, to a scathing New York Times review of the range of its new sedan when driven in cold weather. Reporter John Broder told readers that his effort to check the performance of the company's new supercharging stations along major roadways - where owners of the sedan can get their batteries topped up free and fairly quickly and thus drive long distances without "range anxiety" - was a disaster. The car barely made it part way through his itinerary, via charging stations in Delaware and Connecticut. Eventually, he wrote, it flat ran out of juice. Tesla had to call him a flat bed truck to haul the car back to an intensive care unit (a high-voltage plug). Musk says the electronic logs of the car's treatment with Broder behind the wheel reveals he drove farther and faster than he reported, among other things.

   As Broder is a well-regarded  environmental writer for the paper, and electrification of ground transit a potentially important response to climate change, this fits neatly into the beats the ksjtracker monitors. But the vigor of accusations that the test was, in Musk's term, "fake," also put the affair squarely in the writ of the Times's public editor or ombudsman Margaret Sullivan. Yesterday afternoon she posted her plans to get to the bottom of things. Her post includes more than the tracker's earlier item had on both Broder's initial reply, and on what Tesla's engineers say the driving logs reveal about how Broder really drove and how well he paid attention to its battery's condition. Where Broder says he was driving slowly with the heater turned off to eke the car on, Musk asserts he was speeding, and had the cabin toasty. And so on.

   New developments she cites include Musk's elaboration on his initial, cryptic denunci-tweety-ations of the Sunday review story.

It is quite specific. One sees there also that Musk, as do most bloggers (me! me!) could use an editor. While giving most reporters high marks, he has this opinion: "...some believe that facts shouldn't get in the way of a salacious story." That is so far short of the mark. C'mon. Salacious? Few car tests are salacious except perhaps those accounts from car shows that include adolescent remarks about the attractive models, two-legged and usually long-legged variety, arrayed around the autos. I re-checked Broder's account. Nothing salacious there at all. But sensational news stories, yeh, sometimes they get loose with the truth. By the way, I didn't see Musk complaining about a tester who wrote (wish I could find it) a bald falsehood: that the Tesla Sedan's hottest version accelerates so fast it'll peel the skin from your face. Well of course not and, if he has his facts straight, Musk raises serious issues. Musk also says Broder just does not like electric cars.  Broder is telling reporters his story was done honestly; he is making point by point rebuttals. The one I like best is that where Musk asserts the reporter deliberately drove in circles for a while, with no range to speak of left and right near the charging station and all to somehow sabotage the car's ability to keep going, Broder says he was just driving around in the dark trying to find the unmanned charging station.

  We will await with interest the outcome of this internal investigation at the Times.

  In the meantime...other recent stories on Tesla, NYTimes, and Mr. Musk:

  •  PC Magazine - Damon PoeterIt's On: NYT Reporter Fires Back at Musk Over Tesla Review ; One odd thing here in this account that is worth mentioning. Broder, as it says, argues that perhaps the discrepancies in speed on the logs and what he saw on the speedometer were because the car he drove had 19-inch wheels with all-weather tires, not the specified 21-inch wheels. First, the logs would show what the car's gauges calculated as his speed, so he'd see the same number on the instrument panel as the log would. Wouldn't they? More important, the overall diameter of the tires on 19" or 21" wheels is, far as I know, the same. The small wheels' tires have wider sidewalls, while the largers' tires have a lower profile, compensating for the diff in wheel size and giving the wheels the same spin rate at a given speed. As I have disclosed earlier, we bought one of these cars (hence I'm not a disinterested observer), and I checked out the wheel choices. I took the 19s, figuring a 21-inch wheel with a very low profile high-performance summer tire is close to ridiculous for general use. Our car, again and in California far from the freezing Sierra, has been reliable for its first 2800 miles - other than a few quickly-fixed electronic glitches in its instrument displays.
  • San Jose Mercury News - Dana Hull: Elon Musk vs. The New York Times: battle escalates Thursday with dueling blog posts;
  • New York Magazine - Joe Coscarelli: Elon Musk, New York Times Not Letting Tesla Test Drive Go ;
  • Engadget - Tim Stevens: Tesla vs. The Times: What one review means for the future of auto news ; A fair-minded account of what we know happened, what we don't know, and the ramifications for the automotive press. Steven reports he tested the very same car in low temperatures and had no problems, but he's hardly an apologist for Tesla.
  • Motor Trend -Erick Ayapana: Tesla's Elon Musk Shares Thoughts, Data Logs to Refute NY Times Model S Review ; Motor Trend already saluted this futuristic machine as the 2012 Car of the Year. Ayapana's story focusses on Musk's side of the story but he does link to Broder's blog.
  • Time Magazine - Matt Peckham: Tesla Motors Pours Cold Data on New York Times 'Model S' Review ;
  • plenty more out there....




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