Tesla vs. The Times: lies, damn lies, and untruths

Tim Stevens at Engadget has published a thoughtful breakdown of the Elon Musk vs. John Broder Tesla review brouhaha.


  1. engadget is doing the “there are two sides to every story” dance that the corporate media always does these days, in order to strike a balance between journalistic integrity and the interests of ownership (and the ownership class).

    Broder had an anti-EV bias before doing this story.   The “automotive press” is one of the areas where editors don’t feel any need to uphold journalistic integrity, since basically, they’re just working for the advertisers.

    I’m not sure any media outlet that takes advertisement can be trusted when it comes to consumer reporting (and yes, Broder’s bogus “test drive” is an attempt at consumer reporting).

    And it’s not like this kind of hit piece against EVs haven’t been done before.  As the article above points out, Top Gear did something equally dishonest when they “test drove” the Tesla.  Coincidence?  A TV show that focuses on automotive technology doing a test drive of an upstart company using technology that could disrupt the automotive industry at large?  Don’t think so.

    1. Yeah, doubling down on the “truth always lies somewhere in between” fetish isn’t doing the readership any favors.

      “But that really wasn’t the point of the Times article.”

      The “point” of the Times article was supposed to be a “real world” drive, however the author fudged the operation of the car for optimum drama. Operating the car properly would have gotten rid of the drama and ended up in a dull, if positive review. Could Tesla have offered better customer service? Certainly. Could Musk have responded less angrily? Of course. But the journalist was generously poorly researched, and at worst found the article he was intending to write all along. 

      I can’t stand infotainment and the NYT needs to offer better than the Gawker network or (douchechills) HuffPo to keep its rep.

      1. I would like to agree with you, but the journalist’s lies about things like speed and environmental controls push past, “fudg[ing] the operation of the car for optimum drama,” as a straw-man attack into an outright set of lies.

        If I misuse a product and write a review of my misuse and how the product failed in my misuse, then even if I don’t acknolwedge that my use was misuse, I at least acknowledge my true actions.  If I claim that I used a product as intended while definitely not using it as intended, and then claim that its failure came about because I used it as intended, that’s lying.

        1. On the other hand, Musk libelously turned innocent activities such as a couple minutes drive around a parking lot looking for a recharger into some sort of evil conspiracy to run down the batteries (which doesn’t even make sense), and has otherwise exaggerated and misrepresented the logs (or worse, the logs are consistently disconnected from the reality of driving the car, as they were when the power was completely depleted and the logs supposedly indicate they weren’t).
          The author took bad advice from Tesla employees and failed to be as cautious and careful as he could have been in having a sufficient charge and driving in a way that maximized that charge (but again, at least some of that is down to bad advice).  Sure, the article was rather pointlessly and stupidly pointing out that an electric car, when compared to a gasoline automobile can be a pain in the ass that when treated like a traditional car can fail to meet expectations, but it’s not exactly wrong.

          1. “On the other hand, Musk libelously turned innocent activities such as a couple minutes drive around a parking lot looking for a recharger into some sort of evil conspiracy to run down the batteries”

            But Broder brought that on himself didn’t he? once he lies about the data and what he actually did, we’re all left to interpret why he drove around in circles and didn’t write it down… and everything else.
            Since he deliberately lied, its easy to view things from Musk’s point of view. You cant say Musk is right with 100% certainty, but you don’t have to since we already know Broder is deliberately telling us things that are not true. We’re only left to wonder why.

          2. I don’t know that Broder did lie about anything. Some of the supposed “lies” that Musk thought he caught him out on are questionable – the logs themselves seem to be misleading (for whatever reason).  E.g. we have confirmation that the battery, despite what Musk and the logs indicate, actually was depleted when the tow-truck driver was called.  The tow driver has confirmed this.  So the logs, rather than the original story, are suspect.  The story has its own problems irrespective of the logs, however, and Broder’s recollections aren’t necessarily 100% accurate.  His general points about the car aren’t in doubt, however.

    2. I see commonalities between Top Gear’s review and this one, but i don’t chalk it up to conspiracy or the sort of implied bias. The problem is the need for a narrative and scandal more than any “oil industry ties” mentioned elsewhere. 

      1. How about sexy engine-revving industry ties? I think many car lovers feel threatened by electric vehicles, not enough growl and shake perhaps

    3. Did you see Top Gear’s review of the Tesla Roadster?  Clarkson adored it – made me really want to buy one.  The claim of Broder’s anti-EV bias is based on a quote from a year ago, “the electric car is dismal, the victim of hyped expectations, technological flops, high costs and a hostile political climate.”  He was right – they have been hyped, there have been flops, they are expensive (the model reviewed is 100k!), and the politics aren’t friendly.  Broder’s review wasn’t all that fair, it was actually real crap, but things aren’t simply black and white.  Musk’s data doesn’t actually back up all his assertions, he was as dishonest as Broder in the way he presented things.  There are two sides to this story.

    4. The judge in the Top Gear v Tesla case disagreed:

      “In my judgment, the words complained of are wholly incapable of conveying any meaning at all to the effect that the claimant misled anyone.

      “This is because there is a contrast between the style of driving and the nature of the track as compared with the conditions on a public road […] are so great that no reasonable person could understand that the performance on the [Top Gear] track is capable of a direct comparison with a public road.” 


      Tesla had their case thrown out twice. 

      Car magazines such as Autocar (and presumably Car and Driver) take great pride in their objectivity and independence. Car Magazine famously called the Golf VR6 a lemon, and put that on its front page. 


      1. The judge disagreed because Top Gear was not portraying a real “review” but mocking something up. I don’t think this states what you think it’s stating.

  2. Its a common problem in software that a program which its author believes to be robust can easily be broken by somebody with no stake in its correct operation. As developers we are too careful with our products. Independent testers find more bugs.

      1.  Often both. External testers often do things programmers just wouldn’t, just because they think different and use their computers/software differently.

          1. Sometimes yeah. I worked with a software validator who had this parlour trick: he would cause a core dump in our UI with an obscure key combination, but he never raised a bug report for it. That would have spoiled the fun.

          2. Err.. isn’t that akin to sabotage? Withholding information that could save dozen of highly paid hours?

    1. Why? The article doesn’t offer any enlightenment. She backs a “fellow journo” but with a pretty poor analysis of the data provided.

  3. … he actually spends a significant amount of paragraph-inches, justifying his use of the word “untruths” to describe the lies of the NYT reporter.

    It screams “I know I’m using a weasel word! Guise! Hear me out! Elon Musk is smug!”

    1. Musk wasn’t *smug*, he was a petulant control-freak who made baseless accusations and hypocritically fudged his own analysis of data to criticize Broder fudging his review.  Broder’s review was terrible, and he looks like he had an angle he worked, but Musk’s response to Broder’s crappy review was ludicrous.  This could have been handled professionally by Tesla’s PR people, but instead the Musk had a hissy fit, drew more attention to the drawbacks of the car.  Due to Musk’s response, I know running a heater decimates mileage, the car’s own mileage estimates are inaccurate, and that Tesla’s support people are incompetent – Musk managed to turn a bad review into a large scale discussion of the weaknesses of his product.  

  4. I’m a little bored with the Broder-is-Evil-or-Musk-is-Whining angle this story seems to engender. I can’t come up with a good or even innocent reason for some of Broder’s actions (not charging fully, misreporting how long he drove and how slowly), and I can’t really explain away some of Musk’s overblown claims about Broder. There are a few issues where either Tesla’s sales and support people are massive incompetents or Broder is outright lying (the support people supposedly told Broder to gain charge through regenerative braking and to switch off cruise control, and may not have warned him to engage the battery-damaging “full charge option, and may not have informed him that the car loses charge if left switched off and unplugged overnight).

    What I want to see more discussion of are the parts no-one is even disputing, regarding what I see as insane design decisions by Tesla:
    1) The car lets the driver continue using the engine until the car has been drained of absolutely all power and is left unable even to run auxiliary functions – hazard lights, for instance, or the horn. This is not conducive to road safety.
    2) When the car loses power, a parking brake engages, and it cannot be disengaged manually and cannot be disengaged by supplying 12V power – only by charging from 120V AC. This is even less conducive to road safety.

    Basically, driving too far on your charge (which obviously a conscientious driver shouldn’t do) turns your car into a two-ton brick that can’t warn other drivers to avoid it or signal for assistance and that can’t be moved out of the traffic lanes, not even using a tow truck (it is barely, and laboriously, possibly using a flatbed, or using a portable AC generator). All because of deliberate design choices by Tesla, and all irrespective of the virtues or vices of Mr. Broder.

    1. I agree about your two points.

      Tesla designs the default charge to be 90% of capacity to reduce cycle damage on the cells, alright I think that’s a pretty smart move.  There isn’t an easy way to tell if other hybrids or EVs do similar magic and just hide it from the driver, but I expect they do.  Then Tesla goes and allows you to actually run it down far enough it goes into a protective shutdown…seriously guys, really?

      I don’t see the 120V thing as being completely ass-hatery, but frankly the car should have an on board 120V outlet that can be switched over and act as a charging port if the need arises.  (So instead of standard jumper cables you’d run the jumper cables (or special cable Tesla provides for doing this into the inverter and then basically plug the car into itself.)

      The other side of tech reviewers that no one seems to touch on is their inherent knowledge about said technology before hand.  So it makes sense that a lot of these reviewers are going to use the Model S in an efficient way, plan out their routes exactly, calculate everything, ect..  Where as in the real world people can barely remember to change their oil without their car reminding them.  For the price of a Model S I don’t think we have to worry about many people getting behind the wheel that don’t have some clue as to what’s going on, but at some point if EVs don’t get better range/charge times it will become a serious issue.

      Frankly I don’t care if Mr. Broder didn’t nothing but 0-60 runs in it to kill it.  Mr. Musk’s outburst cast more of a shadow over Tesla than anything a writer could ever say.

      1.  it could be both – the plug in prius and the leaf have less user-visible battery capacity than actually exists. the leaf has a “charge to 80%” (of the user-visible capacity) mode which they do recommend to increase battery longevity.

      2. Then Tesla goes and allows you to actually run it down far enough it goes into a protective shutdown

        As opposed to what?

        1. It would be useful for the driver’s safety and sanity if after they’d completely exhausted the the car’ driving range they retained enough power to operate the hazard lights, the internal dome light, and the horn, and enough to disengage the parking brake so the car could be moved onto the shoulder and could be towed without the use of a flatbed truck. It’s hard to imagine that spending the reserve power required to run those systems in the engine would have sufficed to move the car even another few hundred feet, and it wouldn’t be hard to program the car to shut off the engine (and other energy-hungry systems such as climate control) when just a little little charge remained.

        2. As opposed to having the car stop driving (or even enter a limp mode of 35 mph for a mile) but leave you with enough power to operate things like the e-brake and hazard lights.

          1. Personally I’d be way more concerned with the on ramp myself…  But either way is more reasonable than having it just die.  Still I get your point, some audible warning that in X time your vehicle speed will be reduced to 35 mph, with only 5 miles remaining would be warranted.

    2. The problem here is that I’d expect a CEO to overstate things while I expect something approaching truth from a (supposed) journalist.

    3. ” I can’t come up with a good or even innocent reason for some of Broder’s actions (not charging fully, misreporting how long he drove and how slowly)”
      The first one is pretty innocent – he recharged until he had (more than) enough mileage to make his intended trip, not wanting to sit around waiting longer than necessary.  (Except that he lost a good portion of those miles thanks to the temperature.)  As for how long or how slowly he drove, there seems to be a disconnect between the logs and reality.  The logs indicate that the battery never ran down completely, whereas when the car had to be towed, and the tow-truck driver has confirmed that the battery was depleted to the point where even the handbrake couldn’t be disengaged.

  5. The problem is that for a journalist to maintain credibility, they must hew closely to the the truth. That aspect of journalistic ethics takes on a responsibility towards not telling untruths,  whether they are malicious or not is immaterial. The review was sloppy reporting at best and lack an adherence to the truth is a problem I wish a  paper like the times would care about if their readership is one based on fact over fiction. Based on this report, one should not trust the automotive reviews in the times, it was not factually correct. End of story. Bad reporter.
    For Mr Musk, to claim that he knows the motives of Mr Broder without showing proof, makes Mr Musk look like an overreaching ass.
    Mr Musk is an overreaching ass over a story that was lazy bad reporting.

  6. From:


    ” … it may be the result of the car being delivered with 19-inch wheels and all-season tires, not the specified 21-inch wheels and summer tires”

    If the Tesla engineers didn’t take this into account when analysing the vehicle data logs, this basically explains everything.  In particular,
    – 54 mph becomes 60mph
    – The distance at which the heater is turned down matches what Broder says he did.
    – The fact the Tesla engineers think that there was a “big detour in Manhattan” vs “2 miles extra in Manhattan” (they need an explanation for the fact that they measured a 10% longer distance than they expected based on the declared route).

    If the vehicle wasn’t set up properly, it could also explain why it failed to predict range properly.

    1. The vehicle was calibrated at the factory with those wheels, the journo is pulling that set of “facts” from his ass.

      It doesn’t explain why he was lying about being on cruise control when he wasn’t on it.

      “In particular,
      – 54 mph becomes 60mph”

      It doesn’t explain him going up to 80 at one point either.

        1. I find the 80 mph talking point fairly useful. It’s clear from the logs that the speed very briefly spiked at 80, and there are all sorts of reasons this might have happened: passing, getting away from a reckless driver, curiosity about what it would do to the predicted range, a leg cramp in the “gas pedal” leg while not using cruise control, etcetera. The point being that it was a brief spike, and when a commenter mentions “80 mph” as if Broder was cruising along at that speed at a time when he claimed to be driving slowly and economically, it tells me something about how much attention that commenter has paid to the logs or how fair they’re trying to be.

          Again: I’m agnostic about Broder, and Musk, and a little appalled by how much attention is being paid to these two people (and how much unreasoning vitriol heaped upon each), rather than the less-disputed but still interesting issues arising from Broder’s test drive.

      1. The vehicle might have been calibrated with the wheels (one would hope that it was), but that doesn’t mean that the engineer interpreting the engine logs knew what size they were.  It’s entirely plausible that the engine logs are in a raw data format that requires knowledge of wheel size, particularly as it sounds like this was a tool that was hacked together to provide evidence against dodgy journalists.  

        1.  Ya, because what are the odds that the Tesla engineer would be smart enough to account for wheel size when analyzing the engine data?  Everybody knows that engineers never concern themselves with small details. (Sheesh!)

  7. Journo phoned in a crap review thinking that he could get away with it and go home early, as he likely has many times before – nobody reads the paper anyways anymore.

    Tech company gets its back up, has data that shows the journo is a lazy ass who didn’t bother to pretend to be a reporter. 

    Tech company overreacts and ascribes sinister motivations to the journo, who is most likely just cynical and lazy.

    All the rest is us just watching a car wreck.  Journo should be fired and go work for a pretend news org like Fox.  Musk should be muzzled and leave the public speaking to the PR types.

    1. I like your description, but not your solution.  Journo should drop down to Fox, but Musk should keep right on calling b.s. on cynical and lazy psuedo-journos who are happy to kill technological advances in the crib.

      Remember the Tucker ’48.

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