Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk has fired back at The New York Times, releasing vehicle logs that contradict the Times’ recent story about a road trip in a Model S sedan and calling on the venerable news organization to “investigate the article and determine the truth.”
Last week, New York Times reporter John Broder published a lengthy account of a troubled trip from Washington, D.C., to Connecticut in a Model S that ended with the electric vehicle being loaded onto a flatbed truck. Broder wrote that the car’s range fell far faster than he expected, forcing him to turn down the heat and set cruise control to just 54 miles per hour.
Broder says the car ultimately “shut down,” forcing a tow truck to rescue him from a Connecticut exit ramp.
In a blistering response to the article, Musk published a lengthy blog post late Wednesday, “A Most Peculiar Test Drive.” Based on data pulled from the Model S’ onboard computer, Musk wrote that Broder never ran out of energy during the drive, never set the cruise control to 54 miles per hour and kept the heat on.
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He also said Broder took a detour through downtown Manhattan to give his brother a ride, drove the car in circles in a small parking lot and didn’t allow the vehicle to fully charge.
“The final leg of his trip was 61 miles, and yet he disconnected the charge cable when the range display stated 32 miles,” wrote Musk. “He did so expressly against the advice of Tesla personnel and in obvious violation of common sense.”
New York Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy backed the story Thursday morning, saying in an email, “As we have said previously, our story was fair and accurate.”
Later Thursday, Broder took on Musk’s complaints in the paper’s automotive blog, “Wheels,” explaining that the Feb. 10 trip happened to coincide with a cold snap, which strains power and about which Tesla representatives gave no advice beforehand.
Broder also suggested the cruise-control speed discrepancy might be attributed to the 19-inch wheels and all-season tires on the vehicle instead of the usual 21-inch wheels.
In an email to the San Jose Mercury News, Broder said the parking lot in question was at the Milford, Conn., service plaza, where Tesla’s Supercharger port is located.
“I was looking for the charger, which is not well labeled or lighted,” he wrote.
Tesla’s communications team originally pitched the road-trip idea to The New York Times as a way to showcase the company’s newly installed Supercharger stations on the East Coast.
The Palo Alto, Calif., company takes great pains to cultivate journalists and protect its formidable brand, and the high-stake dispute comes as the company ramps up production of the Model S and prepares for next week’s quarterly earnings call with Wall Street analysts.
Ben Kallo, a Robert W. Baird analyst who covers Tesla, said Thursday that Musk’s rebuttal to the unflattering article could have been expected because Tesla has much at stake.
“Tesla has worked very hard to overcome concerns about range anxiety,” Kallo said. “They are going hard and fast over this. They don’t want any perception that if I live in Minnesota, I can’t own a Model S.”
Broder had several phone conversations with Tesla throughout his trip, but Tesla said those were not recorded. Musk called Broder last Friday, before the article appeared online, to offer regrets about the outcome of the test drive.
But then the tone turned nasty. Musk attacked Broder via Twitter on Monday, calling the article a “fake,” and called Fox Business Network on Tuesday, saying The New York Times set out to write a negative article and “gain a picture of a Model S on a flatbed truck.”
Chelsea Sexton, an electric-vehicle marketing expert, notes that Musk’s response, while detailed, does not comment on one of the most curious parts of Broder’s story: why the Model S lost 65 miles of charge when it was parked, but not plugged in, overnight.
In Broder’s blog answer, he stated that after the “projected range dropped precipitously while parked overnight, I spoke numerous times with Christina Ra, Tesla’s spokeswoman at the time, and Ted Merendino, a Tesla product planner at the company’s headquarters in California.
“They told me that the loss of battery power when parked overnight could be restored by properly “conditioning” the battery, a half-hour process, which I undertook by sitting in the car with the heat on low, as they instructed. That proved ineffective; the conditioning process actually reduced the range by 24 percent (to 19 miles, from 25 miles).”