The New York Times is under attack from electronic-car maker Tesla, whose chairman and CEO on Wednesday posted a full-page, data-filled refutation of claims made by Times reporter John Broder that its Model S failed spectacularly during a test drive.
“We assumed that the reporter would be fair and impartial, as has been our experience with The New York Times, an organization that prides itself on journalistic integrity,” wrote Musk, in a post on Tesla’s website called “A Most Peculiar Test Drive.”
“We were played for a fool and as a result, let down the cause of electric vehicles,” he wrote. “For that, I am deeply sorry.”
On Feb. 8, the Times published Broder’s initial story on the Model S, “Stalled Out on Tesla’s Electric Highway,” which recounted an allegedly harrowing experience with the vehicle.
“As I limped along at about 45 miles per hour I saw increasingly dire dashboard warnings to recharge immediately,” Broder claimed in the story. “But the Model S had other ideas. ‘Car is shutting down,’ the computer informed me. I was able to coast down an exit ramp in Branford, Conn., before the car made good on its threat.”
After several more problems, Broder claims he had to call for roadside assistance.
“The car’s electrically actuated parking brake would not release without battery power, and hooking the car’s 12-volt charging post behind the front grille to the tow truck’s portable charger would not release the brake,” Broder wrote. “So he had to drag it onto the flatbed, a painstaking process that took 45 minutes. Fortunately, the cab of the tow truck was toasty.”
But Musk, armed with electronic logs from Broder’s drive, said the evidence shows that whole scenario — and numerous other incidents Broder mentioned in his story — simply never happened.
“Broder in fact drove at speeds from 65 mph to 81 mph for a majority of the trip,” Musk wrote. “The Model S battery never ran out of energy at any time, including when Broder called the flatbed truck.”
“In his article, Broder claims that ‘the car fell short of its projected range on the final leg,'” the executive continued, as part of a laundry list of errors he found in the Times piece. “Then he bizarrely states that the screen showed ‘Est. remaining range: 32 miles’ and the car traveled ’51 miles,’ contradicting his own statement. … Cruise control was never set to 54 mph as claimed in the article … [When] he claimed the car ran out of energy, he stopped charging at 28%. Despite narrowly making each leg, he charged less and less each time. Why would anyone do that?”
The CEO’s most explosive claim, though, was that Broder drove the Model S for more than a half mile in a small parking lot for the express purpose of draining its battery.
“Instead of plugging in the car, he drove in circles for over half a mile in a tiny, 100-space parking lot. When the Model S valiantly refused to die, he eventually plugged it in. On the later legs, it is clear Broder was determined not to be foiled again,” Musk wrote.
Musk said his company began installing data-monitoring devices in its cars after, he claimed, the crew of the popular television show “Top Gear” pretended a Tesla vehicle ran out of energy on them.
Before posting detailed graphs he says were mined from Broder’s vehicle, Musk paused to consider the reporter’s possible motive.
“We did not think to read [Broder’s] past articles and were unaware of his outright disdain for electric cars,” Musk wrote. “When the facts didn’t suit his opinion, he simply changed the facts. Our request of The New York Times is simple and fair: please investigate this article and determine the truth. You are a news organization where that principle is of paramount importance and what is at stake for sustainable transport is simply too important to the world to ignore.”
In a response posted on The Times’ website on Wednesday, Broder stuck to his guns, despite the data.
“My account was not a fake. It happened just the way I described it,” he wrote. “Knowing then what I know now about the car, its sensitivity to cold and additional ways to maximize range, I certainly would have treated the test differently. But the conclusion might not have been any better for Tesla.”