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Tesla Motors Battles the New York Times 700

Posted by Soulskill
from the musk-faces-krugman-in-single-combat dept.
redletterdave writes "Days after the New York Times released a brutal review of Tesla's electric Model S sedan, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has fired back, claiming the Times article was completely bogus and misleading. In the article in question, Times writer John Broder took the Tesla Model S on a test drive from Washington to Boston, stopping at various service plazas in Delaware and Connecticut well within the projected 265-mile range of the car, as rated by the EPA. However, Broder's Tesla Model S, despite a heftier 85 kilowatt-hour battery for an extra 100 miles of range in 'ideal conditions,' died shortly before reaching its final destination. Broder blames the cold weather and heating issues for his abridged trip; Musk, however, claims the driver did not follow Tesla's instructions, which is why his trip was cut so short. 'We've taken great pains to ensure that the car works very well in the cold, which is why we're so incensed by this ridiculous article,' Musk said."
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Tesla Motors Battles the New York Times

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  • by regular_guy (1979018) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @07:16PM (#42876461)
    You're driving it wrong.
    • Re:CEO Switchout (Score:5, Interesting)

      by war4peace (1628283) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @07:23PM (#42876521)

      He also says they have the car logs. That's gonna be interesting to look at.

      • Re:CEO Switchout (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @07:28PM (#42876549)

        They should publish these logs. Given that there's a PR disaster on their hands, I'd think full disclosure would be wise.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    So, nobody can read NYT's article (without registering/logging in), but everyone can read Musk's rebuttal. That's going to make the debate fairly one-sided in the public's mind.

    • by Rockoon (1252108) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @07:25PM (#42876525)
      Well, if the logs to show that he didnt fully charge the battery.. then he didnt fully charge the battery.
      • by Anaerin (905998)
        Apparently, the logs also showed he took a lengthy detour through Manhattan, rather than a direct route.
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Niac (2101)

          And it totally makes sense that to drive a hundred grand luxury car that you'd have to take only the direct routes, not the ones you may actually want to take. This is a gigantic failure of useability.

          • by NFN_NLN (633283) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @07:36PM (#42876623)

            And it totally makes sense that to drive a hundred grand luxury car that you'd have to take only the direct routes, not the ones you may actually want to take. This is a gigantic failure of useability.

            The main downsides to electric cars are:
            - Range
            - Refueling time (charging)
            - Cost/Maintenance of the batteries

            These limitations aren't new. If they severely impact you then an electric car is not suitable at the moment; end of story.

            Also, a semi has great towing capacity but the city mpg is terrible.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by LordKaT (619540)

          I wonder if there was a software glitch telling him the car was fully charged while it wasn't.

          As for driving through Manhattan - yeah I know, it eats up fuel; but, it's within the supposed range. In the writers defense, nobody told him that city driving would be worse for the car. Hell, the popular assumption with regenerative braking is that it's actually better because you'll regenerate more power as you brake.

          The NYT article seems pretty fair, from a consumers standpoint. Admittedly, driving through Manh

        • by PhxBlue (562201)
          If you've ever driven in Manhattan, you'd understand why.
    • by CityZen (464761) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @07:27PM (#42876539) Homepage

      Delete your nytimes cookies and then you should be able to read the article.

    • by Catbeller (118204) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @08:20PM (#42877053) Homepage

      "So, nobody can read NYT's article (without registering/logging in), but everyone can read Musk's rebuttal. That's going to make the debate fairly one-sided in the public's mind."

      And who's fault would that be, Mr. Murdoch?

      And as for damage, Tesla's stock price dropped five dollars, from what I hear. Who reads the NYT? Stockbrokers and finance people do.

  • by iserlohn (49556) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @07:24PM (#42876523) Homepage

    WTF? Isn't it common sense to fully charge an electric car before embarking on a journey to test the car's range? This guy should be fired from the NYT.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      From what I read, he did not "forget" to charge the car, he just used the fast-charging option until the car computer told him "you've got enough juice to cover your planned journey".

      Otherwise, the article is on par with my experience with hybrids and all-electric vehicles -- the electric motor/battery underperforms. In another 10 or 20 years and a breakthrough or two in batteries or cold fusion, maybe the electric car will be a comparable offering, but currently it is good only to show off.

      Which is why

      • by Kenja (541830) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @07:44PM (#42876701)

        From what I read, he did not "forget" to charge the car, he just used the fast-charging option until the car computer told him "you've got enough juice to cover your planned journey".

        The claim by Tesla is that after doing so, he did not stick to his planned journey. Taking alternate routes, going above the speed limit, etc.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by makomk (752139)

          Well, that's what Tesla want you to assume anyway. The detour, going above the speed limit etc. were apparently on the first leg of the journey which was hairy but not really the problem. The real problem was that he then went and gave the car enough charge to make the planned next leg with some to spare if it wasn't for the car losing the majority of its charge overnight, an issue Tesla Motors apparently neglected to mention. That left him unexpectedly stranded with insufficient charge to reach a rechargin

          • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @08:55PM (#42877459)

            The reported range dropped overnight because HE FAILED TO PLUG IT IN. Which the manual tells you do. So he disregarded the manual. Then he got in a car reporting 32 miles of range and drove it 51 miles until the battery was empty. Would a reasonable person do that? No.

  • by milbournosphere (1273186) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @07:27PM (#42876541)
    I hadn't read the review until Musk started talking about it. This alone made more news than the article. In the end I don't think there will be a large effect on sales; those who can afford to buy a Tesla will buy one whether or not it runs a little shorter in the cold. That said, if the logs reflect that the car wasn't fully charged, then Musk does have a valid reason to complain.
    • by Kreigaffe (765218)

      leaning towards Musk not having a valid reason. Tesla gets pretty pissy about any negative PR -- recall the debacle between them and Top Gear, which amounted to nothing more than Tesla being crybabies.

      • by milbournosphere (1273186) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @07:35PM (#42876617)
        Let me clarify: I do think he over-reacted. That said, not fully charging an electric car's battery before doing a range test is somewhat irresponsible of the reviewer, and it's not hard to see why Tesla might not be happy with the results of the test. Perhaps the NYT should fully charge the car over night, then re-run the test.
      • Tesla got a copy of the script for Top Gear - written before they drove the car - and it had pre-planned a battery disaster. That was the major beef - it was a fix, a fraud. (Top Gear is not a auto review show - it is entertaiment) I think that on trial the matter of the fake-drained script simply wasn't considered. The judge simply ruled that the TV show was a known bender of facts and that the show, even doctored as it was, didn't hurt Tesla - no libel, no financial harm. He simply ruled that the audience

  • Heater (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MichaelSmith (789609) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @07:28PM (#42876547) Homepage Journal

    This was on boing boing a few days ago and one conclusion was that the Tesla charging stations are spaced at almost the maximum range of the car but the car can't get that range in cold weather when the cabin heater is being used. In an electric car there is not enough parasitic heat loss to heat the cabin so the energy comes from the batteries.

    • This is similar to the issue with ICE (internal combustion engine) where if it is really hot outside and you run the AC really high, you will drain the battery more. I think people need some more education as to the limitations of battery powered cars. It is probably not common knowledge that the heater in an all electric car uses the battery extensively vs. just blowing heat off of the radiator. Also, people need to shift their expectations based on the architecture of their vehicle. Some ICE engines n
      • by adolf (21054)

        This is similar to the issue with ICE (internal combustion engine) where if it is really hot outside and you run the AC really high, you will drain the battery more.

        Can you tell me more about this problem?

        • Oops. I meant to say draw more electricity from the alternator which would in turn use more fuel. Thanks Hitler! :)
          • by adolf (21054)

            Oops. I meant to say draw more electricity from the alternator which would in turn use more fuel.

            Can you tell me more about how this works?

            • Damn, wrong twice in a row. Although, I can say your are not wasting your days as I appreciate the corrections!
  • The NYT review has now been seen by at least an order of magnitude more people than would have had any awareness of it had Tesla's CEO made no comment about it at all. The vast majority of Telsa's previous reviews have been of glowing, fanboy type. Now they've completely countered those reviews by causing this article to become the most prominent one on the Internet.

    In the digital age, when the press gets something wrong (especially in an opinion piece) it's just usually better to walk away.

  • by WillgasM (1646719) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @07:38PM (#42876645) Homepage
    Have you ever read how EPA estimates are done? You put a car on a dyno and run it through some fanciful schedule for what a "trip" should consist of. Too many hills, some extra wind, or a heavy foot will heavily skew real-world numbers. If your car gets 50mpg, what sane person would pump one gallon of gas and set out across the desert for the next gas station, 50 miles away. I get the iPhone joke, but if you're trying to max the car's economy, you very well could be driving it the wrong way.
  • A little information (Score:5, Informative)

    by NewtonsLaw (409638) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @07:41PM (#42876671)

    Lithium batteries really don't handle cold temperatures very well at all -- one of the many reasons that aircraft have continued to use good old fashioned Nickel-cadmium or lead-acid batteries (until the Dreamliner came along).

    When they're too cold, they neither take a full charge, nor do they deliver their rated capacity or maximum current.

    I would say that, given the weather on the East Coast of the USA during the drive, this played a significant factor in the lack of range encountered -- but I acknowledge that it may not be the only factor.

    Perhaps another factor is the enhanced need to heat the passenger compartment. Unlike a regular IC-powered car, there's very little "waste heat" in an EV so perhaps over-zealous use was made of the electric heating - thus producing further heavy drain on the battery and reducing range.

    The problem (for Tesla) is that people don't want an EV that comes with a long list of "don'ts" and "cautions" in respect to power management and the effects of low/high temperatures on range. They just want a car they can unplug, jump in and drive -- with an unqualified guarantee of a known range. That's effectively what they get now with their IC-powered cars and that's what they want from any replacement.

  • by PortHaven (242123) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @08:03PM (#42876871) Homepage

    Let's consider this...

    NY Times has a flawless ride, everything goes well, the result? An article like all the rest...nothing noticeable. It's not like the Tesla S is unknown anymore.

    NY Times can push things hard to try to make for a failure, now we have a controversial article on a new technology. That'll sell. And that's really all those old paper rags care about.

  • by briancox2 (2417470) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @08:06PM (#42876899) Homepage Journal
    The fastest way to look overly-sensitive and closed minded is to blame the press. It's just about the worst PR move you can make.

    What they should have done is issue a press release that they were working closely with the reporter to find out what anomolies may have occured so they can improve the design if needed. They are in serious need of a new PR firm.
  • by rs1n (1867908) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @08:20PM (#42877055)
    The reporter was told to (re)condition the battery. From the article:

    After making arrangements to recharge at the Norwich station, I located the proper adapter in the trunk, plugged in and walked to the only warm place nearby, Butch’s Luncheonette and Breakfast Club, an establishment (smoking allowed) where only members can buy a cup of coffee or a plate of eggs. But the owners let me wait there while the Model S drank its juice. Tesla’s experts said that pumping in a little energy would help restore the power lost overnight as a result of the cold weather, and after an hour they cleared me to resume the trip to Milford.

    Looking back, I should have bought a membership to Butch’s and spent a few hours there while the car charged. The displayed range never reached the number of miles remaining to Milford, and as I limped along at about 45 miles per hour I saw increasingly dire dashboard warnings to recharge immediately. Mr. Merendino, the product planner, found an E.V. charging station about five miles away.

    My questions are:

    1. When they cleared you to go, was that with respect to the conditioning of the battery? That is, did they clear you insofar as the battery conditioning was concerned, or did they say something to the effect of "ok stop charging and just go regardless of any other warnings/messages" ?
    2. If the display range never reached the number of miles remaining to Milford, why the fuck did you not call the support team back and point this out to them? Instead, you ignored a very clear message regarding your inability to reach Milford, and then proceeded to complain when that became a reality
  • by Immerial (1093103) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @08:23PM (#42877083) Homepage
    Slipped on the pulldown menu and choose redundant by mistake :P
  • Estimated range (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zwede (1478355) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @08:25PM (#42877101)
    I used to have a 2005 BMW. Whenever I filled it up it would show 330 miles to empty. Yet after 200 city miles the tank would be dry. Amazingly the car was not able to see the future and know how many lights I'd have to stop at. What a crap car. I'll write a scathing article about it.
  • by joe_frisch (1366229) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @08:35PM (#42877211)

    Conventional cars are so well evolved that people have very high expectations. I've had less than one breakdown per 100,000 miles. I can drive almost any car until the "low gas"light turns on, and then have >30 miles range to reach a gas station. When I fill my car at the pump it is filled. No fast fill / slow fill. No trickle-fill. If I somehow don't completely fill it, the gas gage doesn't read full and I can refill a few hours later. Most cars will drive ~400 miles on a tank, and its rare in this country to have to go more than 50 miles to find a gas station.

    It sounds like the electric car works as designed when used by a knowledgeable person. The problem is that people don't need to be knowledgeable about conventional cars. If you buy a new car it just works.

    So while I don't think the Tesla car is in any way bad, it just doesn't meet the exceptionally high expectations for usability that Americans have come to expect.

  • by dltaylor (7510) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @08:37PM (#42877243)

    Drive the car in only the optimum temperature for the batteries and engine; preferably at a high enough altitude to minimize drag; have it driven by someone of the stature of a Thoroughbred jockey, who provides their own light weight thermal compensation to eliminate heater/AC use, and, of course, their own sound system; turn off the lights; always drive down hill and with the wind.

    Using these techniques, it is likely you will achieve the advertised range, otherwise, much, much less. Top Gear had the same issue with the sports car (drive it "fun" and the range is nearly nothing) and prevailed.

    These work as well for liquid-fueled (gasoline, diesel, alcohol) automobiles and motorcycles, but, for those, you can carry extra fuel in case you're really going to be a long way from one of the much more plentiful liquid fuel stations.

  • by organgtool (966989) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @10:27PM (#42878387)
    I still don't understand why I see so much hatred towards the exciting advancements of electric cars on a technology web forum. Everyone is quick to point out that it can't make long distance trips, but the average person rarely does that. Hell, I own a car with an ICE and I still rent a car when going on long trips because I don't want the extra mileage put onto my car and I can rent a car with nearly double the fuel economy of my own car, so it practically pays for itself. Instead of looking at the limitations of electric cars, let's look at the advantages:

    - Charging the car can be three times cheaper than refueling a car that runs on decaying fossils
    - You don't need to go out of your way every few days to find a gas station and refuel (especially nice if you live in an area that has cold weather)
    - In the near future, you will be able to get a wireless charger that precludes you from having to plug in anything
    - The electric car is likely quieter inside and outside of the cabin
    - Your car isn't constantly spitting out pollutants and ruining our air


    Not to mention that many American families have two cars. Make your next car an electric car and keep the gas guzzler for those long trips you claim to be constantly taking.

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