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Tesla Motors Battles the New York Times 700

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 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.

  • Re:Musk to NYT (Score:4, Informative)

    by gajop ( 1285284 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @07:30PM (#42876567)

    In the actual interview, Elon Musk mentioned the NY Times reporter failed the following three things:
    1) Didn't have a full battery
    2) He took detours
    3) He went above the speed limit
    And gee surprise, your battery ran.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @07:33PM (#42876601)

    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 Tesla CEO is whining at every opportunity, he needs the media exposure for his half-baked products.

  • 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 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:CEO Switchout (Score:4, Informative)

    by preaction ( 1526109 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @07:44PM (#42876703)

    That is indeed what the logs do say: The car was not fully-charged, and the journalist took a detour from the given route. The logs are only on the test models, though regular customers can get them added if they want. I imagine this means they aren't meant to be real-time monitors that you look at frequently.

  • Re:Musk to NYT (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @07:52PM (#42876775)

    The battery array in a more standard electric car are far more than $2k. Closer to $12-20k.

  • by makomk ( 752139 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @07:56PM (#42876807) Journal

    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 recharging point...

  • Re:Musk to NYT (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @08:00PM (#42876839)

    To be fair, you're never more than about 5 miles from a gas station in most areas of the northeast - can't say the same of EV charging stations.

    To be fair, refueling your gas/diesel engine takes about 10 minutes - can't say the same of EV charging stations.

    To be fair, running the heater in cold weather will not trash your gas engine's range - can't say the same of EV charging stations.

    To be fair, leaving your internal combustion engine out in cold weather overnight won't cause you to lose approximately 2/3 of your remaining fuel - according to the article, can't say the same of EVs.

    These are all engineering, infrastructure, and design problems that ARE specific to electric vehicles, and which need to be solved if they want their products to catch on in the mass market and compete with gas-powered vehicles. If they want them to be the exclusive toys of the rich who have time & money to waste, then great, keep telling people "you're driving it wrong." If you want to challenge the existing motor vehicle industry, you have to offer a compelling reason to buy your alternative product. So far, other than "wow it's super expensive," there doesn't seem to be too much to recommend the Tesla.

  • Re:CEO Switchout (Score:5, Informative)

    by Curmudgeonlyoldbloke ( 850482 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @08:11PM (#42876947)

    There's a bit more "he said / she said" in this followup article:

    http://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/12/the-charges-are-flying-over-a-test-of-teslas-charging-network/?ref=johnmbroder [nytimes.com]

    including links to Elon Musk's "detour" claims, and the NYT journo's rebuttal.

  • by Catbeller ( 118204 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @08:12PM (#42876951) Homepage

    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 knew it was fake, more or less.

    And here's Jalopnik: http://goo.gl/AdRdN [goo.gl]

    Of course, Top Gear admitted the car they pushed wasn't out of batteries but that it was done for effect and that it is completely true that the car would have run out at 55 miles of track time. Producer Andy Wilman defended their actions by basically saying "Duh, it's a television show" and accusing Tesla of trying to use them for press.

    From Treehugger: http://goo.gl/ILrHB [goo.gl]


    As Mike posted in November, however, it was looking unlikely that Tesla could actually prove that any substantial harm had been done, and indeed that's how it ended up, with the judge throwing out the lawsuit arguing that TV viewers are savvy enough to know that not all is as it seems. Jalopnik has a pretty decent summary of the rejection of the Tesla lawsuit (complete with gloating Top Gear fans in the comments):

    The judge today dismissed this as unreasonable as motorists are aware that cars will perform different under different conditions, such as being on a racing track.

    Justice Tugendhat also made mention that what Tesla appears to want is a legal ruling saying Top Gear is a bunch of lying liars who lie, but that "rectification of inaccuracies is not a function of the courts unless that can be achieved in the course of proceedings properly brought to enforce a recognized course of action."

    Of course what is legal, and what is moral, are not always the same thing. And the Top Gear script writers and presenters had made up their minds to highlight the shortcomings of the vehicle, even before they got their hands on the thing. ...

  • 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
  • Re:Musk to NYT (Score:5, Informative)

    by Luckyo ( 1726890 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @09:28PM (#42877815)

    Let's spell it out:

    Car has theoretical maximum range. This range assumes driving optimally (meaning within certain speeds) and assumes you start with full charge. For internal combustion engine, they have similar maximum range, that also includes certain driving speeds, which is usually FAR more constrained then on electric engine based vehicle due to severe torque penalty on ICE when running in non-optimal RPM range for that specific engine - if you wonder why, look up why internal combustion engines need multi-speed gear box while electric engine on tesla only needs one speed for optimal performance.

    So the claim is that guy who was supposed to test theoretical max range:
    1. Didn't top off the tank
    2. Drove at speeds significantly higher then optimal for fuel consumption
    3. Chose a longer route
    4. Did a lot of stop-and-go during the trip

    Do find me even one vehicle of any kind on the market that would manage to keep its theoretical maximum range with this kind of driving? Because internal combustion engine's energy consumption would actually increease from this kind of driving style far more then electric engine with regenerative breaking both due to no capture of energy on breaking (it's dissipated as heat on brake pads/drums) and due to engine working in non-optimal RPM ranges for much longer periods in case of ICE.

    All in all, if Musk's claims hold, reporter was either very stupid (which could be true - he claimed that he thought that constant stop-and-go would not impact his range) or was intentionally trying to get advertisement for his story.

    Either way, we'll find out when full logs are released.

  • Re:CEO Switchout (Score:5, Informative)

    by hrvatska ( 790627 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @09:33PM (#42877885)
    From the reporter's account it doesn't seem like his route deviated in any significant way from what he had advised Tesla he would be taking. As noted in his reply to Musk's accusations [nytimes.com],

    Mr. Musk has referred to a “long detour” on my trip. He is apparently referring to a brief stop in Manhattan on my way to Connecticut that, according to Google Maps, added precisely two miles to the overall distance traveled from the Delaware Supercharger to Milford (202 miles with the stop versus 200 miles had I taken the George Washington Bridge instead of the Lincoln Tunnel). At that point, I was already experiencing anxiety about range and had called a Tesla employee from the New Jersey Turnpike to ask how to stretch the battery. She said to shut off the cruise control to take advantage of battery regeneration from occasional braking and slowing down. Based on that advice, I was under the impression that stop-and-go driving at low speeds in the city would help, not hurt, my mileage.

    Before I set out from my home in suburban Washington, I informed Tesla that I intended to make a brief stop in New York and that I would spend the night in the vicinity of Milford rather than attempting to make it to Boston, which was theoretically possible with a full charge at Milford, although it was a bitterly cold night — and that clearly affects the car’s range. I added 185 miles of range at Milford, knowing that I wouldn’t need 242 or 265 miles before recharging the next morning.

    When I parked the car for the night at a hotel, the range meter showed 90 miles remaining, and I was about 45 miles from the Milford Supercharger. As I recounted in the article, when I awoke the next morning the indicated range was 25 miles. The rest of that story is told in the article, including a Tesla official’s counsel, which I followed, that an hour of charging at the Norwich, Conn., utility would restore much of the range lost overnight, which had disappeared because of what he called a “software glitch.”

    I don't see where the actual size of his detour (2 miles) or style of driving, as he described it, should have had a dramatic effect on the vehicle's range. It doesn't seem like the problem, at least according to his account, is between the seat and the steering wheel.

  • Re:CEO Switchout (Score:5, Informative)

    by blackraven14250 ( 902843 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @10:00PM (#42878139)

    Based on that advice, I was under the impression that stop-and-go driving at low speeds in the city would help, not hurt, my mileage.

    He's thinking that repeatedly cycling between 0 and 10 is going to help his mileage. Do you really think that anyone driving a hybrid would think this is the case?

    Why does a reporter get an exemption for being an idiot? Driving in NYC for 2 miles is a massive detour when you consider the weather - not only was he losing lots more charge in those 2 miles than in the next 50 of cruising with gradual changes in speed, he also likely had the heat on, which is just going to drain the battery even faster than before.

  • Re:CEO Switchout (Score:5, Informative)

    by blackraven14250 ( 902843 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @10:15PM (#42878279)
    Two miles in Manhattan probably took him an hour to an hour and a half. Look at the Google estimates for the Delaware to NYC (2 hours 26 minutes) and NYC to Milford (1 hour 26 minutes) legs of the trip - it totals under 4 hours. He left Delaware at 12:24pm, and arrived in Milford at 5:45pm - that's more than 5 hours, and almost 5 and a half. He spent more than an hour in NYC, probably an hour and a half, with at least 30 minutes in pure stop-and-go hell, since he's in midtown right around the time traffic starts to build up.
  • by estitabarnak ( 654060 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @11:00PM (#42878637)

    Right, the power needs to come from somewhere. But electricity transmission is significantly more efficient than gas transmission, there's the difference. A non-trivial amount of gas is used to drive gas to a station so you can get it. Last time I checked, the EPA estimates that electrical transmission is 10% more efficient than taking gas to a gas station.

    Doesn't change the fact that coal is shitty, but you can't really polish a turd.

  • Re:CEO Switchout (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jeremi ( 14640 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @11:23PM (#42878831) Homepage

    a two mile detour is hardly the make or break thing that Musk is making it out to be.

    An extra hour of running the heater, on the other hand, might make a significant difference. The heater eats up electricity at the same rate regardless of how slow the car is going.

  • by Zerth ( 26112 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @11:47PM (#42879009)

    Two miles is two miles.

    202 miles driving with a detour through the city at 5 mph is not just 2 miles longer than 200 miles of highway driving.

    The motor isn't running when your not moving.

    But the heater, the lights, and the stereo system are running, plus regenerative braking isn't magic.

    Stop and go traffic for an hour or two in the winter with the heater at full blast could easily drop tens of miles from the total range.

  • by cyclomedia ( 882859 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @05:49AM (#42881225) Homepage Journal

    I commute and when home I tend to walk/cycle around town so my car spends 22 out of every 24 hours parked. At weekends it might sit there from friday night to monday morning untouched. If I plugged it in at home and at work then I'd never need to worry about it.

    Problem is that that's the opposite of liquid fuelled cars, people are used to charging during their journey. It's a complete mental shift, and we all know how good humans are at that, I'm honestly surprised no one attacked the Tesla with a pitch fork, the bastard demon magic car!

"Conversion, fastidious Goddess, loves blood better than brick, and feasts most subtly on the human will." -- Virginia Woolf, "Mrs. Dalloway"