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Tesla/Times tiff turns tedious

It’s an epic battle, folks, and fight fans are the big winners. The New York Times stands by its statement that Tesla’s super-sedan Model S ran out of juice on a snowy test drive. Tesla says the media behemoth set it up, and staged the whole thing.

On the face of it, both scenarios feel wrong. EV experts agree that cold weather is one of many factors that can limit range, but others have tested the Model S in the cold with no problems, and CEO Elon Musk says that Tesla has “taken great pains to ensure that the car works very well in the cold.” Media watchers are well aware that stories about spectacular failure, especially of a much-hyped new product, sell newspapers, and sometimes cause editors to forget facts, but we certainly don’t expect that kind of yellowish behavior from the Times.

So, who’s right? Well, if you have a lot of time on your hands, you can read the whole story: the NYT article that opened the bout, in which John M. Broder delivers a snarky play-by-play of his charging challenges, Elon Musk’s combative rebuttal in an interview with Bloomberg West, Broder’s indignant rebuttal to Musk’s rebuttal, Tesla’s release of the information from the vehicle’s log, Wired’s concise summary of what the logs revealed, and Broder’s most recent point-by-point rebuttal of everything Tesla has said to date. You can even read the hundreds of comments on these articles, which actually contain some intelligent remarks, mixed in among the usual bile.

If you still crave more, you can check out Consumer Reports, which tested Tesla’s East Coast superchargers on January 31, and CNN, which has just taken a Model S down the same route that the Times did. And we’re sure you can read plenty of “Huffing” and puffing on the left, and a “Rush” to judgment on the right, but we’ll leave you to find those links for yourselves.

One fact that seems to have gotten lost in the sea of virtual ink that has been spilled over this issue: the point of the Times article wasn’t to review the Model S itself, which Broder calls “a technological wonder.” It was to test the supercharger network, and see if it really did make a long road trip practical. Unfortunately, Mr B had a little too much fun with his “stranded in the cold” storyline, and failed to give us a clear answer to that question.

On the other hand, Tesla personnel gave Broder contradictory information, and could have done a better job of briefing him before the ride. Tesla’s chief technology officer, J.B. Straubel, told the Times that a road trip in an EV “takes more planning than a typical gasoline car, no way around it.” For whatever reason, Mr B didn’t get that memo, and failed to take some basic precautions that should be familiar to any EV driver, such as plugging the vehicle in before leaving it overnight. Model S owner Peter Soukup offers some helpful hints in an article on Plugincars.com.

With neither combatant able to land a knockout blow, how long will this contest continue? We say, call it a draw and schedule a rematch. 


Sources: Tesla, New York Times, Consumer Reports, Bloomberg, CNN, Wired, Plugincars.com

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