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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 iserlohn ( 49556 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @06:24PM (#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.

  • by Rockoon ( 1252108 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @06:25PM (#42876525)
    Well, if the logs to show that he didnt fully charge the battery.. then he didnt fully charge the battery.
  • Re:Musk to NYT (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Synerg1y ( 2169962 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @06:37PM (#42876635)

    Well shit, I can't buy this car, I do all three of these daily in a normal car... and the only reason I would ever wait for a battery to charge on a car would be while I'm swapping it out for a fully charged one... we're not there yet (+ these batteries cost like 2k?), nor do I own a car with a battery.

  • by WillgasM ( 1646719 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @06:38PM (#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.
  • Re:CEO Switchout (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cheater512 ( 783349 ) <> on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @06:46PM (#42876715) Homepage

    It wasn't fully charged, but he didn't need it to be fully charged.
    It had plenty of charge indicated to get him to the next charging station.

  • by NFN_NLN ( 633283 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @06:47PM (#42876717)

    the popular assumption with regenerative braking is that it's actually better because you'll regenerate more power as you brake.

    You're fired. Pack up your shit and get out.

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

    by c0lo ( 1497653 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @06:50PM (#42876743)

    So the Tesla is only suitable for people who:

    1) can be certain of a full charge every time they leave the house; 2) never take detours, or get forced into detours by road construction; 3) never go above the speed limit;

    Given that, I'm absolutely shocked that this isn't already a mass-market blockbuster - it's clearly suitable for all the common use cases!

    To be fair, if you do start with a non-full tank, drive longer distances or raise the RPM (by driving it at higher speeds) to a fuel-driven car engine, you can expect that you may not be able to reach the next petrol station (i.e. what you describe is, in principle, not specific to electric cars). The difference is in the advertised range.

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

    by gajop ( 1285284 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @06:50PM (#42876749)

    This isn't about your daily car usage, it's a test to verify the car's range, and failing to do all three should have one marked as an idiot (or malicious).

  • by briancox2 ( 2417470 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @07:06PM (#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 Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @07:06PM (#42876903)
    It doesn't matter how much you pay for a car or what its source of power is, if you plan a route that takes almost a full tank/charge to get to, then take a detour to some place without a source of power, then you are going to be in trouble. Whether it is because you decided to take your solar powered car through a long tunnel, or because you decided to take a detour in your hundred grand luxury car driving to Vega and ignored the "last gas station for 100 miles" sign, you're going to have a bad time.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @07:13PM (#42876973)

    Ok, so since when did Engineers start trusting users?

    Last I checked, the user was the biggest point of failure in any system. Tesla has to account for the fact that people are not going to follow instructions. This is actually a better real-world test than you might think because people don't always read directions.

  • by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @07:17PM (#42877019)

    Overnight charges before a short trip are unreasonable

    Meh, my Porsche has a rated range of about 350 miles. That's really not all that much further than the Tesla S. And according to what I average, with my driving style its closer to 317.

    Yet, I don't worry much about making "short trips" of a couple hundred miles even if the tank is only half full when I set out, for the simple reason that I am really rarely more than a couple dozen miles from a place to fill up, and there is pretty much always a gas station before any large stretches of highway.

    That is really all the issue here with the Tesla. Its not the range so much that is a problem, but the availability of places to refill. If I can quick charge a Tesla S for 200 miles pretty much anywhere then I'll never have to do an overnight charge to get the 265 absolute max.

    I'm not sure how ubiquitous fast-charge stations are for the tesla or electric cars in general in new york... or anywhere else for that matter. But if they can get even a good fraction of the penetration that regular gas stations have, the tesla's range is already good enough for most people. And its only going to get better.

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

    by Dahan ( 130247 ) <> on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @07:19PM (#42877041)

    The car was not fully-charged

    The car may not have been fully charged, but it was charged to the point where it displayed "Charging Complete" (which is apparently about 90% charge), at which point the estimated range displayed by the car should have covered the distance to his destination with no problems.

    and the journalist took a detour from the given route.

    A two-mile detour into Manhattan. Which he was thinking might actually increase the range, seeing that air resistance is lower at slower speeds, and regenerative braking can help recoup much of the energy lost by a gasoline-powered car during stop-and-go driving. Have you noticed how hybrids have a higher MPG for city driving vs. highway, whereas gas-powered cars have a higher MPG for highway vs. city? It turns out that he was wrong--driving at a slower speed is what saves energy, not the stop-and-go driving of going through a city, but a two mile detour is hardly the make or break thing that Musk is making it out to be.

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

    by swillden ( 191260 ) <> on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @07:19PM (#42877049) Homepage Journal

    It wasn't fully charged, but he didn't need it to be fully charged. It had plenty of charge indicated to get him to the next charging station.

    He charged until the computer said he had sufficient juice for his planned route and driving style (assuming the Tesla is like my LEAF, the car estimates your driving efficiency based on your past driving). Then he took a longer route and drove more aggressively. Surprise, surprise, the charge the computer (correctly) estimated was sufficient for one route and style was not enough for another route and style.

    This is like putting barely enough gasoline in your car for the planned journey and then taking a longer trip and wondering why you ran out of gas. The problem is between the seat and the steering wheel.

  • by tftp ( 111690 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @07:20PM (#42877059) Homepage

    Unless they completely screwed you over, and you have evidence to prove that.

    Being right has nothing to do with [not] being stomped into the mud. One necessary condition here is the ability of the audience to comprehend your proof.

    In this case, though, I think Tesla is wrong. The reporter drove the car exactly per instructions, and he was frequently on the phone with Tesla. He charged the car also per instructions. I do not know if he used the mode "Kill my battery but give me 10% more range" - but no sane person would be even trying to find this mode unless it is preset. If Tesla had to use this mode, on a preplanned trip, why didn't they preset it before delivering the car to the reporter?

    Tesla is also haggling about a 2 mile "detour" in NYC, about 200 miles away from the failure point and before the last supercharge. This is ridiculous. Tesla instead should explain this:

    1. Why the sequence of supercharges was yielding shorter and shorter remaining range at the end of the charge? ("Full" - 242 - 185 - 216.) Who is in charge of the charge here?
    2. Why the charge meter and the odometer do not agree? (In other words, if the range meter reports 100 miles to empty it is correct only if you don't drive?)
    3. Why the charge dropped from 90 miles to 25 miles overnight?
    4. Why the "battery conditioning" that was supposed to improve the range made it worse? The missing (90-16)=74 miles of range would cover the whole segment between Norwich and Milford, probably even without a charge at Norwich.
    5. Why the low voltage recharge is so pathetic? You'd have to set up camp near a 120V outlet if you want to charge the car.

    All in all, I see that the reporter did all that he could to help the car to take this easy trip - but the car still failed. Lame, literally. Nobody should pay $100K for a car that can't take a road trip. EV manufacturers should lower their estimated range by measuring it not in ideal conditions but in real conditions, by physically driving the car - at night, in rain, in snow. Then the manufacturer can stand by these numbers - and journalists wouldn't be using them as an easy punching bag. EV makers are lying, all of them; they think puffing the range up helps them. But in reality the negative PR hurts them more. Be honest, say that the car cannot cover more than $m miles and nobody will take you to court. Those are expensive toys, and people who buy them have resources.

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

    by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @07:24PM (#42877089)

    Since I'm not rich enough to afford one of these, yet I still have two cars, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that I wouldn't expect people to use their electric luxury car for long trips. Hell, we take our less-efficient car (minivan) on trips because it is more comfortable. It seems to me that the Times was looking for a way to fail the car to make their story better. Most of us would probably commute in this thing.

  • Estimated range (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zwede ( 1478355 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @07:25PM (#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.
  • Re:Musk to NYT (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @07:26PM (#42877113)

    Goodness, that's pedantic. He means "if you AVERAGE up EVERYONE's speed, it will be about 5 over". It's not the most well-constructed sentence, but most native speakers should be able to figure out what he was saying.

  • by Roger W Moore ( 538166 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @07:29PM (#42877163) Journal
    Whose fault it is is somewhat irrelevant. Do you want a car that you have to remember to plug-in overnight and which you have to carefully plan your trips to ensure that you can get to the next refuelling station? Even if you fully understand how they work and their limitations you can easily make a mistake by forgetting to plug it in and suddenly you can't drive to work the next day because it takes several hours to charge.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @07:39PM (#42877261)

    Do you want a car that you have to remember to plug-in overnight?

    Do you want a car that won't start just because you forgot to turn the headlights off overnight?

    Do you want a car that won't start just because you lost your key?

    Do you want a car that won't drive sideways just because the rear wheels are fixed?

    Do you want a car that can only travel on the ground?

    Do you want a car that spews noxious nitrogenous and greenhouse-inducing exhaust? That even spews exhaust at all?

    Do you want a car that stops just because you ran over some sharp detritus?

    I could go on, but perhaps you get the point that we have learned to put up with a lot of bullshit from our cars. Slightly different bullshit is slightly different.

  • by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @07:54PM (#42877451) Journal
    What Top Gear does can hardly be considered serious reporting, or even serious car reviewing.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @07:55PM (#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 Dunbal ( 464142 ) * on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @07:56PM (#42877473)
    A more obvious one: do you want a car that you have to remember to fill up with gas?
  • by digitalhermit ( 113459 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @08:01PM (#42877527) Homepage

    I love the Top Gear show, but they're more a comedy show than a proper car review show. As far as Tesla was concerned, Google the lawsuit and you'll understand why Tesla turns on all logging. They caught Top Gear in a bit of a lie.

  • by YrWrstNtmr ( 564987 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @08:05PM (#42877579)
    A more obvious one: do you want a car that you have to remember to fill up with gas?

    The difference is, with a gas car, once a week. With an all electric, every day.
  • by farble1670 ( 803356 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @08:42PM (#42877977)

    Do you want a car that spews noxious nitrogenous and greenhouse-inducing exhaust? That even spews exhaust at all?

    where do you think that electricity comes from that charges your car? the electricity fairy? just because you aren't burning the coal in your back yard doesn't mean it's not being burned.

    granted, it's better to have pollution coming from a relatively small number of coal plants than millions of semi-regulated automobiles, but it's naive to see this as pollution-free.

  • by citizenr ( 871508 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @08:46PM (#42878017) Homepage

    You may not have heard about it, but plenty of other people did when Tesla's stock price plummeted 2.5% moments after the review was uploaded to New York Times's website. The damage was immediate. In other words, Tesla lost $100 Million in capital in a matter of minutes because of the New York Times's review. That could be a devastating libel claim, but in the mean time, Tesla has to deal with $100 million fewer dollars.

    Tesla didnt lose shit. Stock exchange speculators did.

  • by Windowser ( 191974 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @08:47PM (#42878021)

    You've never lived in a really cold climate, have you?

    (Hint: It's called a block heater, and good fucking luck getting your car started at -40 when you forgot to plug in overnight.)

    What brand of car do you buy ?
    I live in Montreal and I never plugged a car in my life. Well, except that old Nissan that refused to start under -25 unless I plugged it for an hour.
    and I've owned a lot of old cars.

    I currently own a Subaru and the day it refuse to start because it's too cold is the day I will go shop for another one.

    Stop buying cars built for California

  • by Jeremi ( 14640 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @10:32PM (#42878891) Homepage

    The difference is, with a gas car, once a week. With an all electric, every day.

    People seem to do okay with recharging their cell phones, they just get into the habit of plugging them in before going to bed.

    For electric cars, it's similar; you just get into the habit of plugging it in when you get home.

    Even if you do that every day, it still takes less up less of your time than driving to the nearest gas station, possibly waiting in line for a pump, paying with your credit card, and pumping the gas. It's much cheaper too.

  • by bmo ( 77928 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @11:38PM (#42879457)

    The problem is that if you run out of gas, you curse and call AAA. They'll stop by and give you a gallon of gas, which will probably get you to the nearest gas station. From there you can add more gasoline and go on your merry way. Maybe a half-hour of inconvenience, depending on where you are.

    Half an hour, you say? HAHAHAHAHA!

    I can tell you right now that I *know* that you've never had to call AAA.

    Ever. In your entire life.

    Because it's alway45 minutes and up to "whenever the tow truck driver gets to you" even in an urban, civilized area. It's not laziness, it's just that there are so many people with AAA cards and not enough tow drivers.


  • by Richard_at_work ( 517087 ) <richardprice AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @04:18AM (#42881035)

    The main difference is that with a petrol or diesel powered vehicle, I can make unscheduled, unplanned trips whenever I wish without having to worry about where I will next refuel it - if I need fuel, I just pop to the nearest station, which there will be a plethora of within 100 miles unless you are seriously out in the sticks. Refueling takes 5 minutes, and I'm back on my way to my unplanned destination without issue.

    One day I get to work and my phone rings - its my father, he's had a heart attack. He lives 250 miles away. I need to drive back home, grab a bag with a few essentials in it, and drive to the hospital. I don't want to have to stop at my house for hours to recharge my vehicle, or stop en-route for an hour to top it up etc etc.

    Electric vehicles are still crippled by the fact that you cannot ever have an unplanned excursion of any length in one.

You have a tendency to feel you are superior to most computers.