NYT reviewer takes Tesla on road trip, "wasn't smiling." Elon Musk: NYT review is "fake."

Rick Ibsen unloads the Model S from a flatbed truck at the Supercharger station in Milford, Conn. (John Broder/The New York Times.)

John Broder of the New York Times test-drove a Tesla Model S on an interstate road trip in cold weather, and encountered problems with drive time and charge time falling way short of expectations. The resulting article: "Stalled Out on Tesla’s Electric Highway."

"I drove a state-of-the-art electric vehicle past a lot of gas stations," he writes. "I wasn’t smiling."

Well, neither was Tesla founder/CEO Elon Musk after he read the negative review.

The Tesla Model S, which starts at around $52,400 USD.

Musk tweeted, "NYTimes article about Tesla range in cold is fake. Vehicle logs tell true story that he didn't actually charge to max & took a long detour."

This isn't the first time Tesla and Musk have fought back against critical reviews: their libel lawsuit against the BBC over a 2008 episode of the popular automotive show Top Gear ended up being tossed out of court.


    1. Which would itself be something of a problem, albeit one that is much more likely to be fixed with a simple firmware update, rather than a forklift replacement of the entire battery pack…

      What surprises me, though, is the amount of de-rating that allegedly occurred due to cold. In my experience with smaller Li-ion powered devices, the penalty is relatively modest(higher than with lithium primary cells; but lower than most other common chemistries), plus at the charge and discharge currents that a car is pushing, the bigger problem is keeping the battery pack cool, rather than keeping it warm.

      (On an unrelated note, any word from our friends at Tesla on what these ‘logs’ contain and how exactly they make it back to HQ? Did they pull them when the loaner unit was returned? Are loaner and test units; but not retail ones, configured to phone home? Does every unit ship set to automatically return position and telemetry data to the mothership?)

        1. Sounds reasonable – as long as Tesla opts in to having the whole log (no skips) published. As it is, Tesla can say “the log sez this!” and nobody can audit that.

          This is the modern internet. Given that the log must at some point be contained in the car, I can’t envision any real limitations to making it available.

          I’d be cross-checking distances, times, and sources  in the car. Is the distance odometer based, or gps based? Are there legitimate discontinuities in the log, where the car suddenly changes it’s mind about things. Does it log battery temp and outside temp, and does it log all control usage? Does it log both charging times and charging levels?

          Tesla might be unhappy about the potential for revealing secret details in the log, but transparency on this issue cuts both ways.

          1. At the very least, the data arguments will be hilarious… even the map published in the article shows him averaging more than 80 mph for some legs of the trip.

            There should be a betting pool on what the logs show that his top speed was. If it’s less than 100 mph I’ll be dumbfounded.

          2. Given that the one area where electric cars unequivocally, hands-down, no-contest, game-over-man, beat their internal combustion counterparts is acceleration, I’d order a psych eval for any car reviewer type who was handed a Tesla and didn’t execute the ‘just fucking floor it and feel what happens’ protocol at least once…

      1. Yeah, the followup to this should be interesting, since the bad parts of the review are extremely specific to facts that can easily be verified if true. 

        A couple of decades ago I would have automatically given the reporter the benefit of the doubt, relying on the reputation of the fact-checking department of the New York Times. That reputation is certainly gone, after all the scandals of the last decade.

        I also would have assumed that the reviewer is tech-savvy enough to know that the vehicle’s power usage logs could be extremely, perhaps embarrassingly, detailed. Surely he wouldn’t go to press if he wasn’t confident that his description of the trip is fair? Hmmm.

      2. I drive a Volt, and the cold de-rating of the battery capacity isn’t much, but the cabin heater chews through watt-hours. My commute to work each morning in the spring an fall (no climate control) is 1.8kWh. In the summer with mild air conditioning its 2.4kWh, but in the winter with cabin heat and heated seats its 3.5kWh. 

        1. I wonder if the logs are detailed enough to show whether the windows were down with the heater blasting. Perhaps even so detailed as to show what Debbie Gibson song he was singing along with.

          1. I don’t know if the Tesla includes an in-car mic(OnStar does, for reference, so it isn’t exactly tinfoil hat territory to suggest that a vehicle telemetry package would); but in a car this pricey, and this computerized, I’d be rather surprised if they skipped logging any parameters that might be relevant… It’s not like an extra $10 worth of flash memory is going to break the bank.

    1.  If that’s enough to make you think they’re trying to kill the electric car again, you need to tone down the paranoia, mate. One car in a range of electric vehicles available got a bad review, so what? One bad review does not an industry’s death spell.

          1. Australian, but I guess we do speak something close to British English, so fair enough. Tell me, have you ever been so shocked your monocle pops out and drops into your beer?

    1. He left the charging station in Norwich with the car saying he had 32 miles worth of range (12% state of charge), driving toward the Supercharger station 62 miles away on the I-95. He got 51 miles on that, running out in Branford.

  1. Back when Top Gear faked the car running out, I was damn near heartbroken they did such a thing (but not surprised, as they’re petrolheads through and through). NY Times is just trying to fit the “EVs run out, LOL” narrative.

      1. “raising valid questions about infrastructure for electric cars versus hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, which could be a better fit for the existing fuel infrastructure”

        But, of course, generating the hydrogen requires a fuckton of energy to begin with, so you’re back to vastly inefficient to fossil fuels.

        1. Once fusion comes online it’ll all be fine. 

          Anyway, I’m going to watch a sitcom on the television now, probably ‘Two and a Half Men’ or something hilarious like that, so I’ll just have to assume that everyone completely agrees that fusion will come online, and everything will be fine.

        2.  generating the hydrogen requires a fuckton of energy to begin with

          Exactly so. Liquid/highly compressed hydrogen as a fuel isn’t so much a source of energy as it is a medium of energy storage akin to a battery. The hydrogen must first be generated at an associated energy cost and then liquified/super compressed (with another associated energy cost) to make it compact enough for use as a vehicle fuel, and the energy return from the hydrogen is at a ratio of less than unity (below 1), so the end result is that you get less energy out than you put in to start with. And that is why hydrogen is not an energy source. Anything that requires more energy to produce than it returns is not an energy source but is a method of storage (at a loss), AKA a battery.

      2.  For the vast majority of suburban drivers who own a garage or a driveway the infrastructure is there. For urban commuters it’s a matter of putting in metered jacks. It’s an immediate expense but there are LOTS of benefits that start the minute they go into use.

        The electric grid already exists, we just need to install the taps. Retail fuel sellers and those in related industry want fuel cells because nearly everyone already has access to electricity while nobody has access to hydrogen cells without dealing in retail.

        Also fuel cell cars don’t really exist yet so ICE makers get to play a game of looking like they are backing an alternative to fossil fuel (which is obviously a certain inevitability) while stalling its replacement. They can keep making shitty parts-demanding ICE machines while claiming to be “green” because of some tax deductions they make in their own self-interest.

        1. You make excellent points. On a side note, this is going to be a pile on, isn’t it. I’ve just gone and defended Top Gear on Boing Boing, what the fuck was I thinking?

          1.  I have a very strong love and hate relationship with Top Gear. When they talk about cars I tend to enjoy it quite a bit, as I do when they heckle one another.

            The problem is that they (mostly Clarkson and Hammond, playing the part of Clarkson’s bitch) will go into racist/homophobic/misogynist territory frequently.

            My favorite comedy bit on the subject: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7CnMQ4L9Pc

          2. Halfway through reading your post I thought “I’m going to have to post a link to that Stewart Lee bit!”

          3. Top Gear/Clarkson isn’t misogynistic – unless laughing at the uselessness of men counts. Clarkson’s got daughters and seems to be very careful at not being misogynistic. There’s certainly chauvinism, in the sense of saying Mexicans are lazy and Germans are efficient etc, but Clarkson gave the British National Party short shrift when he was approached by them a few years back. 

          4. saying Mexicans are lazy

            As an American who sees Mexican immigrants constantly working hard at low paying, labor intensive jobs, risking life and limb to cross borders and deadly deserts to get here, then facing exploitation and abuse once they do, I find that sentiment not so much to be “chauvinist” (too nice a word) as I find it to be simple bigotry/racism.

            I can’t really get too worked up about German’s being stereotyped for what is essentially a positive trait.

        2. The electric grid already exists, we just need to install the taps

          Yes I agree. I think we need a standard like a high power USB. When connected the car identifies itself to the electricity grid and negotiates current and price. Devices which support that standard could be built into anything where power is available. Supermarket car parks, apartment blocks, petrol stations and normal power poles.

    1. “I don’t know who owns NYT, but I am curious”

      obviously not curious enough to, ya know, look it up.

      1. Exactly right. :-)

        I’ve spent the past 3 days at my computer learning the ins and outs of a community newsblog that I have taken on the responsibility of. I am just a little too burnt out to go searching out more information.

        And to answer the obvious question, stopping by and reading a bit of Boing Boing is a nice little break.

    2. The Sulzbergers (descendants of the publisher who made the paper a major player) and Carlos Slim (richest man in the world) are the major non-institutional shareholders.

  2. In any case, the CORRECT conclusion headline is really, “Road tripping in an EV is Still Not Recommended.”

    This is negative, but obvious. I believe “all” electric vehicles have a shorter range between fueling than the average fossil-based car (which is agreed as “400 miles”). This is not news.

    The weather, and the East-vs-West are mere obfuscation, and shame on the NY Times for putting lipstick on a pig and selling it as news.

    Simple fact: Most EVs have plenty of range for “around town” and for “daily commute to work” — if you plug it in daily. In other words, the ONLY range issue is long trips. (Which is not much of an issue to work around.)

    Next time I replace a car, instead of getting a $15K Honda, I’ll be considering an EV, because in California, some EVs can use the HOV (carpool) lane during rush hour. That’s worth some money to me!

    1. So if I could pony up the $72k for the top end Model S would I not expect to get near the rated ~250 miles per charge?  Because that is what is being explained here.  All the obfuscation and lip stick on a pig as you put it is real world usage of the vehicle.  Not all buyers live in sunny California.  Sure the 85kWh capacity doesn’t give it a 400 mile range, but for $72k is should be more than for “around town” or a “daily commute to work”.  Imagine getting into your $15k Honda and while cruising on the highway your mpg drop from high 30’s to low 20’s, and there isn’t a gas station for the next 300 miles.  That’s what happened here.

        1. You have to turn the phone volume all the way down to get the full battery life. And you need to get a car to refuel you at full speed to get the max mpg.

          1. The other big issue with phone battery life is signal strength: my phone spends all day desperately seeking wisps of signals, and it kills the battery.

        2. > I have never driven a car which reached the rated fuel consumption.

          Depends on where you live and how you drive.  I have a 2010 Honda Insight and easily beat the 40mpg rating.  Then again, I live in the Midwest on the edge of the plains and never approach anything like the 405 (which is what the current ratings are based on).

          Same with phones. I have a VZW GNex, and if I leave LTE on, and travel into an area with spotty coverage (all too common out here in flyover country) my battery life is hilariously short.

          1. Depends on where you live and how you drive

            Precisely. But I think a lot of the reason why petrol car drivers don’t worry about range is that they can buy fuel absolutely everywhere. The lack of infrastructure is always going to work against new technology.

          2. Also – it takes you 5 minutes max to refuel your standard fossil-chewer, how many people can afford an hour break to simply continue their journey?

      1.  sunny California

        It’s 7C in Grass Valley and -9C in Truckee at the moment. This is a big state with a wildly varied climate. Electric cars a becoming popular even up here, although it will take Subaru coming out with an all electric 4 or all wheel-drive to really take over. This is Cult of Subaru country and nearly every other vehicle here is a Subaru 4WD of one sort or another.

  3. According to the NYT story (which means it is one side of the story, I suppose, and has nothing about detours, etcetera), Tesla was encouraging the reviewer to drive from Washington DC to Boston based on their having installed rapid (30 minute to one hour) charging stations spaced along the route, which Tesla drivers could use for free. But, critically, the stations were spaced from each other by very nearly the maximum distance the car could travel on a full charge under ideal conditions, and Tesla admits that (1) cold weather will reduce the expected range by 10%, maybe more; (2) parking the car overnight in cold weather may cut the range further; (3) using resources such as heat (in February!) may reduce the range yet further; and (4) the car does a bad job of predicting (and telling the driver) how much further it can go before needing to recharge.

    So: Tesla was dumb to attempt publicity for this route based on their having charging stations spaced so far apart, far enough that they’d be reasonable only under ideal conditions – and they were doubly dumb to do it in February.

    PS the ability to fully drain a Tesla such that it becomes a two-ton brick that can only be charged from a charging station sounds like a bad design feature. That draining the battery implements a parking brake that cannot be manually released without recharging at a charging station sounds like a design catastrophe.

    1. Well just remember their design/engineering team couldn’t come up with a transmission for the Roadster so they just opted for a higher revving motor instead…
      At least they don’t burst into li-ion fueled flames…

  4. Wait why is this a surprise?  Tesla hasn’t impressed me from day one.  Their claim to fame, the Roadster, was nothing more than a Lotus Elise chassis with a battery pack, controller, and electric motor.  For $100k a really experience maker could put that together.  The Elise alone would only be $50k, leaving someone $50k for battery, electronics, and a motor.

    Yes the Model S is an impressive bit of kit, but it has every limitation that any electric has.  Cold weather is its enemy.  Tesla doesn’t have any secret sauce that only they are using, they just charge you more for battery capacity to compensate.  I’m not saying Tesla needs to fold or anything, I mean someone has to keep pushing things along, but lets be realistic about the products they are making.

    1. Have you ridden in a Model S? It truly is a glorious machine. The price tag, and the whiplash you get from acceleration, should indicate that this is not a daily driver. For that, a plug-in hybrid is the best solution.

      1. Hm, one look around my SF Bay Area commute tells me people do indeed use them as daily drivers.  I’ve stopped counting them on my Santa Cruz to Palo Alto commute, they’ve become that common.
         The Fisker’s a much sexier beast, though..

  5. Honestly, if electric cars are supposed to be the way forward the way we recharge them has to change. Standardized battery pack that can quickly be removed by robot come to mind. There is already a company out there that has designed a “gas station” that does that.


    It solves a bunch of problems:

    1. It takes only minutes (tops) to swap out the battery and give you a full charge.
    2. It allows maintenance / replacement of defective battery packs, including recycling.
    3. It removes the cost for the owner to eventually have to replace the battery pack.

    This system would not prelude people from still charging at home, but it would greatly extend range if you want to travel further than one charge would allow. Heck, it would allow to actually use smaller battery packs as the density of these stations increases.

    Honestly, the whole electric car thing has the making of the 500 different external power supplies / chargers you have at home right now. The step forward would be for the Governments to create a standard battery pack that can be swapped out, then let private companies run the charging stations / set up an exchange model.

    1. Or a rapid charge battery system, like the Prieto battery that can basically charge as fast as you can pump electrons into it.

    2. Or you could easily two step the whole process until battery tech catches up.  Most people need a car that could do 100 miles on a charge for probably +95% of the time.  Those other times why not just have a tow behind, generator/luggage system?  Something that may not be priced to own, but designed to be sold to rental places like U-Haul or car rental services.  You could schedule one to pickup for a trip, drive as long as you wanted to, drop it off and pickup another one when you went back (or keep it for the entire time). That solved just about every problem with current EV’s while reducing the usage of gas by a very large factor. 

      Hell that was the original design of the Volt before it got worked over into nothing more than a standard hybrid with an extra big battery.

      1. That’s still how the Volt works. At least, mine does.
        After the battery charge runs out, a gas-fueled generator comes on to power the electric motor. That’s not what I would call a standard hybrid – I drove a hybrid for many years before buying the Volt, and every hybrid used gas, period. I haven’t used a drop of gas in my daily commute since I got the car 5 months ago.

        Perhaps because it is only a few minutes stopping time, people tend to think of a gasoline-powered car as able to drive forever. The truth is, you still have a finite distance before you have to refuel. The two kinds of cars are fundamentally the same, the problem is in how much fuel you can carry with you and how long it takes to replenish. Will we ever have battery tech that holds enough juice for 400 miles, that can be refueled in 2 minutes? Or are we going to rework a century of conditioning that tells us our travel is cheap and fast? In the last 5 months I have been made much more aware of the “cost” of travelling just because I can now see it, in real time, on my dashboard. It definitely changes the way I drive. Unfortunately, I don’t think the masses will see it that way. They’ll want to be able to drive long distances and only stop the minimum of times for a few minutes each. 

    3. I doubt battery swapping is the way going forward. A Better Place, a proponent of the battery swapping idea, has been in fiscal trouble for some time and has recently pulled out of the U.S. and Australia: http://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/06/better-place-proponent-of-e-v-battery-swapping-pulls-out-of-u-s-and-australia/.

      I don’t doubt the New York Times article. The charging stations are near the limits of the Model S’s range. Telsa admits that cold weather shortens the range, and so does using the heater. Cold charging can also be an issue too. It doesn’t take much to make the car unable to make the trip between the two charging stations. Maybe a 20% loss of capacity. I know a few Volt owners who could do their commute and back on battery power alone back in the summer, but now find the engine kicking in on the way back.

      The Model S is a magnificent beast, but there are limits to electrical power. The energy density of a battery is nowhere near that of gasoline. An electric future will mean more stops to fill up along the way. Again, the New York Times had a great article about the adoption of electric cars in the Netherlands: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/10/world/europe/dutch-put-electric-cars-to-the-test.html?_r=0. It will take a lot of work to get electric cars to be more widely used. You need more than one high capacity charging station every 200 miles for it to work. Consumers have to adjust their driving habits. And the cars themselves will have to get better.

      The Model S is a showpiece. It shows that electric car can be roomy, fast, and well made. The golf carts of the 1980s need not apply.

      1. I think “A better place” struggles because car makers aren’t interested in this (for the moment?). If I had to guess it’s similar to why Apple is installing their batteries fixed now: Better use of space.

        If electric is supposed to take over, and until we can come up with a better way to store electricity, swapping batteries is really the only viable option I see, not that I expect this to happen any time soon.

    4. The battery pack in the Model S was designed to be Better Place swappable, back when Tesla Motors was undecided between swapping and rapid charging. They went with rapid charging, which I believe made much better business sense for a number of reasons, but they kept the swappable design. This leaves Tesla Motors open to the option in the future and reduces the labor cost if they have to replace a battery (the Roadster had to be partially disassembled, while the Model S pack simply unbolts from below).

    5. I agree that the way electric cars recharge needs to change but I’m not sure standardised batteries that are lifted by robotic arms is the solution. High capacity flow-batteries seems like a better bet: pump in a charged liquid, whilst simultaneously pumping out the “flat” liquid. This “flat” liquid could then be recharged as slowly as necessary and sold to the next customer.

      You’d avoid the necessity for a standard sized battery, so big cars could have a bigger tank (as opposed to multiple standard sizes), etc; you’d avoid the need for robotic arms to pull batteries in and out.

  6. It takes an awful lot of power to heat a car at 10 degrees. If you live in the Bay Area, as Musk does, I don’t think you realize how much extra load that is going to be.

    The company was probablt focusing on the cold derating of the batteries.

    The NYT article is timed well to juxtaposing with Musk’s somewhat snarky comments about Boeing’s battery expertise. Be careful when being smarty pants!

      1. An EV’s drive train is so efficient that the waste heat is of essentially no use in keeping the cabin warm.  Ask anyone who ever drove an electric Citicar or Comuta-car, with the “heater” that ducted air from the motor into the cabin.  (Yes, I have owned one.)

        In a conventional vehicle, about 70% of the gasoline burned goes into waste heat, so there’s plenty for toasting your tootsies in the winter. 

        FWIW, the Toyota Prius is only modestly more efficient than a conventional gasoline powered car, but it has to run the engine more to keep the cabin warm when outside temperatures drop into the teens.  The average FE improves when you shut off the heater.

        1. If the drivetrain sheds so little heat, then why did Tesla install liquid cooling?
          By the way, comparing the cooling requirements of the Citicar or Comuta-car is like comparing the cooling requirements of an Easy Bake oven and an actual oven!
          Assuming an 88% efficiency, the 420HP motor and drivetrain running at 10% load sheds over 12000 Btu/h.  I am sure they could heat the cabin quite a bit with that.

          1. I think you are over estimating the amount of power needed for basic cruising.  Assuming you are burning 42HP to maintain 70mph, that’s roughly 31.5kWh.  Compared to the 85kWh battery that only gives you a best 188 miles per full battery capacity.  Going by what Tesla claims is a rough 250 miles range, then you’d be burning 23.8kWh at 88% efficiency and 70mph.  That gives you closer to 9k Btu, and considering power is being consumed elsewhere probably closer to 8k Btu.  Still warm, but not nearly as hot as a gasoline car.
            A 120V space heater puts out about 5k Btu, that’s going to take a while to warm a 30F cabin to 65F.

            And I’d assume Tesla installed liquid cooling because when you are running a hundred amps though a motor of that size you have to have some way of keeping the windings cool.  It’s not so much about the heat generation as it is the power density.

          2. Well, since the whole problem is that he couldn’t make the 250 miles, I think my calcs are more realistic.  Besides, the batteries being too cold is BS.  If these are too cold, then why are the batteries part of the liquid-cooled part of the drivetrain?  The batteries need this as charging and discharging would otherwise allow them to get too hot (a consequence of the battery/energy density required to store the 85kWh).
            I think the real problem is that the wind resistance increases with decreasing temperature.
            By the way, Tesla guidelines were to maintain 54mph.

          3. By the way, many traditional cars have a tremendous heating system (on the order of 60kBtu/h), but I would rather have 9k Btu/h than nothing!  For example, small airplanes, like the Cessna 172, only have cabin heaters that can put out around 9kBtu/h.  It can get very toasty in there, even when it’s -10F outside.

    1. I wonder if the model S can use parasitic heat to supplement the electric heaters. Having burned out a motor on a small EV which I made, I know there is heat to be recovered.

    2. Given that the company had to design all the heaters built into the car, and heating elements are one of those parts that come with datasheets and stuff, I’d be pretty surprised if they don’t know quite precisely how much energy the heating system can use. Whether they anticipated the demand for it under cold weather conditions accurately… that is a much more plausible area of failure.

      1. They did, but they don’t expect their customers to forget to charge their cars and then blame the manufacturer.

  7. All this talk of Musk as “Man of the Year” before Time made their pick public was such bollocks. Neither Tesla nor SpaceX merit this. Both are for-profit entities. SpaceX as such is a great accomplishment, but will essentially be a space-freight company at best for the foreseeable future. Are the Tesla stable cool? Indubitably. But are they, to date, anything other than rich people’s politically-correct playthings/status symbols? Certainly not.
    Musk makes the “people’s electric car” that anyone looking to buy a car can afford, I’ll cheer his name. In one stroke he’ll have changed the national conversation on electric vehicles.I would have picked the entire Curiosity team as persons of the year. Hands down, they did more to excite the interest of young people in science, engineering and space exploration than the Apollo guys did when I was a child.

      1. I wasn’t making a relationship there or critiquing them on that basis– just building the argument. It’s not like they’re altruistic in nature or something. My point was, they are for-profit enterprises, selling (in Tesla’s case, high-end luxury) goods and services at a very, very high ticket price to rich folks (Tesla) and governments (like ours, so in essence we’re paying them). Again, nothing wrong with any of that at all, but it is not “Man of the Year” material (“for better or for worse, …has done the most to influence the events of the year.”) Theoretically perfecting an existing product (if indeed one agrees that’s what Tesla have done) or recreating/extending the work NASA’s been doing for a generation don’t come close. I do believe that if Musk managed to make a quick-recharging electric vehicle for the masses, that might well qualify as the sort of “influencing” that would matter.

Comments are closed.