NYT public editor weighs in on Tesla/Musk drama, throws Broder under electric car

New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan on the controversy over John M. Broder’s NYT review of the Tesla S, which upset Elon Musk and many fans of his electric vehicles:

"I do not believe Mr. Broder hoped the drive would end badly. I am convinced that he took on the test drive in good faith, and told the story as he experienced it. Did he use good judgment along the way? Not especially."

One detail Sullivan didn't address is something of a well-kept secret in tech journalism: Musk is a genius, a highly successful serial entrepreneur, and indisputably an important figure doing great things. But he also has a nasty habit of busting the balls of reporters who are acting in good faith, when the reporting they produce includes any criticism of SpaceX or Tesla.

What do you, dear readers, think of the data-drama?

(Photo: NYT)


  1. Elon Musk may be rough on journalists, but in this case he seems to have deserved it.  There was some very sketchy findings in those published logs. 

    If you’re going to jerk a guy around, you don’t get to complain when he calls you on it.

      1.  I read it as “If you are going to jerk a guy around by screwing around with the facts when you are reviewing his flagship electric car, you don’t get to complain when he spots you have been driving the car weird and he calls you out”

      1. Just sayin’…what? Margaret Sullivan’s piece indicated that she did her homework, evaluated the claims on both sides, and she basically came to the same conclusion many who have followed this hubbub have come to – that Broder didn’t set out to do a hit job, but was sloppy in the way he tested the car and its charge limits, and didn’t follow the owner’s manual while reviewing the car – which, especially considering it’s a new-ish type of car, is sloppy homework. Her piece was fair and detailed, and gave a *lot* of space to informed reader criticism and Tesla’s point of view.

        Charges of Broder being in the pocket of the oil companies border on Birtherism, and I haven’t seen any convincing evidence that would support this sort of conspiracy-slinging. He may have screwed up, but nothing indicates he’s a shill.

        As for the suggestion that the NYT’s ombudsperson’s integrity is compromised by that news organization’s PR department – that’s just straight-up irresponsible speculation. It reflects a profound ignorance about how the best newsrooms operate, and it insults a lot of hard-working people (I don’t work for the Times, though I have worked in large newsrooms, and that’s just not how shit works). I’m sick of mistakes or sloppy work by individual journalists being used as evidence that an entire news org is corrupt. Your fact-twisting, pre-existing framework is showing. Just sayin’.

        1. Just sayin’ “One might argue that the NYT is a company with its own PR department.“. Is that observation in error?

          It’s amazingly clever of you to deduce all that about me from that brief remark. You must be physic — Lew Harper (via Paul Newman).

          1.  Your implication is that this means the paper is corrupt. Or maybe I misinterpreted and your observation is simply that there exists a PR dept. at the NYT, and is judgement-neutral. But that would be akin to saying “One might argue that the NYT is a company with an advertising dept. And they also have desks.” Evidence for your assertions, please, or stop lurking under bridges.

          2. They made a well-deserved crack in reference to my setting up a false dichotomy between the corporations with their goals and lax standards and the media (who are themselves corporations with their own goals and lax standards).

          3. I will concede perlocutionary intent beneath my remark. Which was to point out that the NYT is no less of a company than is Mr Musk’s and that it has no less an instinct to present itself in a good light than does his. This seems quite legitimate to me. Any problems you have with it are your own. I’d also suggest it’s not really your place to police what others say.

          4.  Is the dichotomy false? Has it been proven that there are lax standards at the NYT as a whole? And do the NYT’s corporate goals influence their reporting to the extent being implied? This is all simplistic and overly broad. Both are corporations, therefore the Times controls what its reporters write? Nonsense, I tell you.

          5. “Is the dichotomy false?”

            Yes. “The Media” is (with exceptions) a series of profit-seeking corporations.

          6.  This is simpler than you’re making it.  C W suggested that NYT should be less biased than Tesla because it is a journalistic enterprise.  Lemoutan pointed out that the NYT, besides being a journalistic enterprise, is also — like Tesla — a profit-optimizing privately held corporation with a PR department.

            Lemoutan neither said nor implied anything about lax standards or influence on their reporting.  You are free to draw your own inferences about the extent to which NYT engages in damage control but I think it would be a little silly to argue they never do this in any capacity whatsoever.

          7. Who’s policing what you say? You make an assertion, be prepared for it to be open to criticism – you know, similar to what’s going on with this Broder-Musk-Sullivan stuff.

            And the problems I have with your assertions relate to them not being based on any sort of evidence or proof – just your “perlocutionary intent” (also: really?). 

          8. I’ve just lost track of what you’re criticising is all. As it can hardly be my initial observation (if it is then you’ve yet to explain what’s wrong with it), it can only be this massive edifice of motive and slander that you’ve constructed out of it.

  2. @Xeni makes a great point, given Mr. Musk’s history, I would have expected Mr. Broder to have been more diligent and prepared in his article. Mr. Musk has no qualms is going to the mat, even if he is in the wrong.

  3. Musk’s initial reaction was that Broder sabotaged the  ride for a good story. If he did, he’s horribly unprofessional and should be kicked out of journalism completely. If he didn’t, then he acted in a singularly careless and unprofessional manner, and it’s his employers who are unprofessional for keeping him on…

    1.  And there’s the point the NYT misses entirely – either way, the ‘journalist’ should be fired.  Whether he’s lying or incompetent, such a person is not qualified to do reviews.

      1. If there’s evidence that he lied, then yes, he should be fired. That sort of thing is toxic for a news organization. But it’s some hard-assed draconian bull to get fired for a mistake or sloppy work. Dress him down, edit his work more vigorously, keep him on a shorter leash, but everyone makes mistakes at work – other than Pope Ratzinger for another week – and to roll heads for dropping the ball is just hateful and intolerant.

    2. The best route to technical or science journalism is a technologist or scientist who later becomes a journalist.  A journalism major who tries to wing it as a technologist or scientist results in garbage like that produced by Broder.  The media is littered with reports from people who haven’t a clue about the scientific method or critical thought processes.

  4. She seems to be going to the mat for her reporter. I’m not sure how anyone could conclude that he went into it with anything other than bad faith, and Musk has the data to prove it.

    The NYT does have a history of this sort of thing.

  5. It’s a shame we didn’t have someone with some authority kick up this sort of fuss over Judith Miller’s ludicrous reporting during the run-up to the Iraq war. There, I said it…

    1. Nobody with any authority cares about this, which is a “safe” scuffle to discuss. The two aren’t really comparable.

    2. That was the point at which I concluded that NYT is not worth trusting, but in that case the only people who had data to disprove her were the same people who gave her the misinformation to publish.

      Back on topic: Anyone who leaves a charging/gas station with only half as much juice as they need to get to their destination is a F***ING IDIOT. Broder needs to grow up and accept that his review was junk… anyone who would buy this car is probably gonna be smart enough to not make the dumb mistakes he did.

  6. Broder took Tesla up on it’s offer that he could drive between charging stations for the drive from Washington to Connecticut now that they had the quick charge stations. He made several sane assumptions that any consumer should be able to make. 1. If you plug it in to charge it until it is full, then it is full. 2. You can drive as fast as the traffic. 3. You can keep the cabin at a comfortable temperature.

    The manufacturers argument seems to be that he was disingenuous unless he 1. used the unobvious “Max Fill” setting. 2. That you should not exceed 54 mph. 3. That you should not use the heat even though it is freezing. 

    If those are really the constraints, this vehicle is not ready for prime time and Broder is absolutely correct. 

    1. You’re not following the details.  There are legitimate issues with battery endurance loss due to temperature, but as numerous other drivers have demonstrated, even the “fast charge” charging (not the max fill) lets you drive that drive from one end to the other at freeway speeds if you do in fact start with a full charge, charge (again fast charge) at the two intermediate points, and don’t screw around.

      Turning the heat off and driving 54 are not necessary to accomplish the drive under normal conditions with normal temperatures, there was plenty of reserve range for all those who have recreated the drive since Broder’s article came out.

      A reporter had a bad experience with something.  A good story to come out of that would have been him doing it once, screwing up, figuring out what he did wrong, and then doing it again to see if he could get it right.  A perfectly valid lesson coming out of this would be “if you’re driving long distances, pay attention and get the details right.”

      The “Oh, it can’t do that” – especially when he misremembered and mis-wrote-down a bunch of details, was not a good outcome for his credibility.

      1.  I would say that the real solution is to accept actual consumer behavior as a given, and to put an additional charging station in place before saying the car is ready for long-distance driving.

        BTW-I don’t think there is anything wrong with the car. The problem is with Tesla’s marketing and customer support not being quite aligned with consumer reality.

        1. “the real solution is to accept actual consumer behavior as a given”

          Why don’t we have a roaming gas truck service instead of AAA and tow trucks, then? We’ve had ICEs long enough, you’d think people would learn to use them better.

    2.  Your point 1. is incorrect – the max fill is a red-herring, because he didn’t reach non-max fill – he disconnected at 28%, knowing the car was telling him it had a 30 mile range and that he knew he was embarking on a 60 mile trip. His mistake was misinterpreting the Tesla service desk who said (or seemed to say) it was ok to disconnect without enough miles to make the trip. Either that, or he understood Tesla service and Tesla service screwed up. It sounds plausible to me that they thought the car was under-reporting its power because they thought the battery was cold, and they assumed that once it warmed up on the trip, a bunch more mile-capacity would appear, when in fact the battery was flat – Broder hadn’t fully charged it at the last stop (not even to the non-max fill level), and left it disconnected overnight. Maybe their calculations assumed he was fast charging when he wasn’t.

      Bottom line, he did some colossally stupid WTF?! things that would not be done by me, you, or him. He did those self-defeating things because he thought Tesla service was telling him to do those things. And for all we know, they were. Someone screwed up. It might have been service, it might have been Broder, but it wasn’t the car – the car outperformed it’s estimate by 20 miles.

      1. I’d be interested to hear if the Tesla customer service helpline records its calls, and therefore if some proof can be found of exactly how many times he called and what he was told.

        Also, whether he bothered to record a GPS track on his smartphone. I know I sure as hell would if I was doing something like that, just so I could be sure of the details whilst writing up the story if nothing else.

        1. “whether he bothered to record a GPS track on his smartphone”

          He didn’t, but would it change anything? He never disputed their trackings, that I can recall.

      2.  If the customer who calls customer service doesn’t then understand how to do the right thing, it is prima facie evidence that customer service was inadequate. (Obviously that is a common situation!) 

        While it makes you feel good, it is usually counterproductive to your business to decide that you are right and your customer is an idiot.  You run out of idiot customers pretty fast.

    3. Accept:
      He left on a long trip with a known low number of fueling stations with less that a full charge (Broder admitted this).

      Even with the charging stations it is reasonable that an electric car owner would plug in over night when they stopped, especially if the car noted it was getting low.

      He left for the next stop even though the car indicated it had FAR less range than needed to get there so instead of waiting and topping up, he decided to try and fudge it and turn the heat down and drive efficently which he didn’t really succeed in doing… It is like driving a gas car into the mountains or desert , passing the “Check fuel, no fuel for X miles” sign on a quarter of a tank and expecting you can make it if you just drive more efficiently.

      A large car club of other owners manged to do the trip and CNN, with JUST the charging stations.

    4. Thank you for promulgating the “you can’t exceed the speed limit in an electric car” meme. It allows people on the internet to easily identify people who didn’t actually read any of the primary sources, or who are making statements in bad faith.

      For the record, Mr. Musk did not say you shouldn’t go 81 mph. He said you shouldn’t tell people you were using cruise control when you are, in fact, not using cruise control.

      1.  That was not my message. He just needed another charging station along the route to have the necessary margin of security. I hope Tesla installs a few more, then this trip should be rather routine regardless of how one drives.

        1. Another charging station along the way would make no difference. If a consumer is happy to start a trip knowing they have half as much gas in the tank as they will need to get to the next gas station, then adding gas stations doesn’t change that – it just means they’ll be happy to drive on even less gas, and still run out just as often.

    5. The “standard” setting still charges the car to 90%, something that Broder only bothered to do once, shortly after taking receipt of the vehicle. As the charge stations can allegedly reach that level in about an hour from zero, he must have been simulating someone in rather more of a hurry than a pleasure cruise up the coast would be.

      The first charge added about a hundred miles of range, and although it was a cold day, with the driver ignoring the supposely given-as-standard advice to keep his speed and the CC temperature down (to hell with the claims about the different size wheels – any manufacturer who knows what they’re doing won’t fit wheel/tyre sets with significantly (more than +/- 1-2%) different rolling circumference for summer and winter rubber…) …. instead going 60+ instead of “under 55”, setting 70’F+ (phew!) heat for all but the last 50 miles …. the car STILL had *just* enough range to make it to the next charging stop.

      Where the driver failed to charge it back up to even 90% (instead, 4/5ths of that, i.e. 72%), ending up nearly 60 miles short of the pack’s potential non-absolutely-full range. Unsurprising, then, that the next morning he found himself rather short on remaining charge, even for a 60 mile trip… If he’d bothered to leave it on the supercharger for just five minutes more, then he could at least have crept along at, say, 35mph to the next fast charge point, arriving just as it hit emergency reserve. If he’d left it on for another 10-15, there would have been no drama at all. But that doesn’t make for a good story and tons of visitor impressions for the newspaper’s website, does it? Especially as it’s a site that throws up a paywall after you’ve read a paltry ten articles in the space of thirty days, on top of ads.

      And, well, was the place he stayed at totally devoid of an electrical supply? Surely the car is equipped with a standard household-socket trickle charger that could have been plugged in to any available outlet with an extension cable? Even if you only have a measly 1.5kW available, if you’re stopping at the hotel overnight that implies probably a good 12 hours of downtime. 18kWh is a reasonable proportion of an 85kWh (or effectively 77kWh) pack. 21%, in fact – more than enough to make up the supercharger shortfall, therefore covering up some of the “conditioning” losses as well. Heck, let’s make this worse; a lowly 110v, 10A socket, for a mere 10 hours (so 9pm to 7am): a total of 11kWh. That’s still another 13%, meaning the equivalent of having charged to 85% instead of 72% at the supercharger. He would STILL have been OK, so long as he drove as conservatively as he’d supposedly been advised to, come the morning. 

      From what I remember of the article, he didn’t even bother to ask anyone whether he could plug his car in there. You don’t NEED to use a level 3 supercharger or whatever (presumably level 2) “slow” charger he eventually crept to if a level 1 trickle charge is available for such an extended period.

      Hell, I haven’t even got an electric car, and I’m not a motoring journalist soaking in this stuff, but I know that much. Maybe he was sticking to some kind of overly-exacting Top Gear Challenge type principles, where he resolved to ONLY charge up at the places he was directed to, rather than making like any sensible long-distance EV driver would and juicing up whenever the opportunity presented itself?

      In any case… returning to the numbered points. If you believe he followed the advice he claims in his own article that Tesla gave him, and some of what Musk then counterclaimed:

      1. He was shown that there’s two different levels of charge, how to access maximum charge, and why it’s not set as default (i.e. it damages the battery; hence 90% is “normally full” and 100% is “overfull”. Really they should re-normalise the scale so the “extra full” charge is 110% and the estimated range is based off what would THEN be 100%…). In any case, he only did that once, and managed just fine as a result despite going too fast with the heat turned up. If we assume there’s a measly 1kW heater at work, then over a 4-hour drive it’ll eat up 4kWh, or almost 5% of the battery capacity; also, energy use per mile goes up approximately linearly with speed at legal highway speeds, so a trip that would use 54kWh at 54mph will use 60kWh at 60mph… or in other words you’ll blow an additional 7% of the range for the sake of the -maybe- 25 minutes you’d save off a 4-hour trip. Mind that you’re generally recommended to not drive for more than 2 hours straight without a break anyway, and there may have been slower charge points already in place at interim service stations). Even bearing all that in mind, as well as the climactic effects on the battery, “90%” was still sufficient to get between the two charge stations in a reasonable amount of time without the car quitting on him.

      I realise when I charge up my mobile phone that if I unplug it when the battery meter is at 80%, it won’t run as long as if I’d let it fill up to 100. And that if I set out somewhere in my fossil-fuelled car with the tank gauge needle hovering a little above the reserve mark, I won’t make it more than another 100 miles of very conservative driving before the engine sputters and dies. 50, if I drive fast with the AC and several electrical items turned on. Why is that not an automatic assumption for an electric car?

      I can only think that it’s a similar problem I face as an AV tech. Most of our systems are little more than large TV screens (either big LCDs, or projection systems) fed by things analogous to VCRs (DVD players or PCs), and the methods used for controlling and interacting with them are between “very similar” and “identical”, as are the general concerns over considerate and proper use (i.e. don’t smack them around, don’t leave them turned on if your next action is to leave the building for the weekend…). But very few people seem to actually “get it”, or make the connection, because the thing is a lot bigger, and looks/sounds different, and one or two relatively much more minor things (e.g. the volume control) work differently. Hence the mental connection between the TV and VCR they can work perfectly well at home – and always turn off when they leave, and the big projector screen in an auditorium fed by a PC goes adrift. Much as it may have done for Broder, his iPhone (and normal car), and the Tesla.

      2. Regardless of what you would think of doing as a normal consumer, he was told – and acknowledges he was told / claims that he went along with – to keep the speed down (I think misinterpreting “keep it under 55” as “do a flat 54”) BY THE PEOPLE WHO MADE THE THING AND INSTALLED THE CHARGERS. One might then think that it would be a good idea, if you wanted to successfully complete your trip, to do that. OK, you may turn up 20 minutes later than expected. But that’s better than getting stranded entirely. In bad winter weather, do you not slow down, under official advice and your own common sense, in order to not crash out on a snowy road? OK, it takes 3 hours to get home instead of 1, but at least you make it instead of going nose-first into a drift. Or if your fuel warning light pings on just as you pass a filling station signed as “last gas for 60 miles”, do you not ease off the pedal a little in order to avoid either running out or having to turn round to fill up?

      You might get given similar advice from the manufacturer/dealer/mechanic when running a car in, or after a major overhaul. Would you brashly ignore, and then, as it sits at the side of the road billowing smoke, lie about your compliance with that as well?

      (Yes, again, I sometimes get that from users of AV kit. It’s nowhere near as common though, and I’ve taken to threatening to break the fingers of the next person who leaves a projector on over a weekend, burning a picture of their desktop into the LCD elements – a threat that has largely though not entirely worked. If I worked at Tesla, I might have suffered a brief temptation to break Broder’s fingers too – or maybe more judicially, called up the automatic recordings of his conversations with the customer service phone operators to hear exactly what he was told to do and by whom before deciding who’s for a bit of bone-cracking…)

      3. No-one said to not use the heat, just to be conservative with it. If you’ve got even light outside clothes on, 60’F climate control would be perfectly acceptable. 70’F would be a bit overwarm. Mid-70s would be far too hot, and in fact you’re generally recommended not to go that high as it makes you drowsy. It’s not as if car heating systems work very well for the first 5 miles anyway, given that most of them work off the engine, so one expects he’d either have still had coat/hat/gloves on and derived some extra warmth from them, or would have been shivering for a while in a T-shirt regardless of what vehicle he got in and so low-60s would have felt a lot more acceptable. Minimum legally acceptable indoor temperature in a typical workplace is 60F; the general setting of a home heating system is 68. Why you want your car, in winter, heated to a level where people used to a cool-temperate climate would start glancing at the AC button is anyone’s guess. Maybe he’s a native of Texas and was feeling homesick?

      Keeping the cabin heated to 30-35 farenheit above the ambient temperature would still use some energy, but as it’s insulated and the driver would contribute some of his own body heat (…does any of the waste motor/battery pack heat get distributed to the cabin I wonder?), it wouldn’t be anywhere near as draining as trying to keep it at 40-45F above ambient.

      And again, the logs show that he eventually turned the heat down, but probably only once he felt a bit sweaty and tired, rather than on Tesla’s advice. For a looooong time after charging up, the heater was working hard and putting extra load on the battery. Maybe he’s so time served, with cars that only had very basic heater controls, he can’t get his head around the concept of Climate Control and the idea that you set a particular comfortable temperature, and the car works homeostatically to bring the internal environment up/down to that temperature and hold it there. Rather than jacking it up to maximum at first, manually backing it off as it warms up, and briefly dropping it to “cold” when you need refreshment.

      Sorry, in all three cases, not only was he given warnings and advice about these things, which he claims to have followed, and as a journo with a special interest in motoring he should have had some at least vague idea of the reasoning and worth of the advice, but evidence is being brought to bear that he ignored it. He might not have done so maliciously, or done so by very much, erroneously thinking “ahh it won’t make much difference”, but do it he did. If it had been a gasoline car with a small tank and a gas-fuelled heater, he would have encountered exactly the same problems for exactly the same reasons. There’s a small but noticeable difference in my mileage at 55 and 60mph, and with the AC turned on and off (and therefore, I cruise conservatively when I am able or need to, and only turn on the AC when it’s absolutely needed – fossil fuel is expensive here). That would have made the difference between having zero range at the second charge stop, and having several miles in hand. So would actually getting a “full” 90% charge at the second stop, the same as me taking the time to put that last gallon or two in the tank rather than stopping short on a splash-and-dash partway through a long trip…

      The point under discussion is not that “this is the wrong car at the wrong time” – Tesla are tacitly admitting that they’re sort of pushing the boundaries here (OMG you have to stick to 55mph, keep your jumper on and stop for one hour out of every four in order to make a trip that in a civilised country would be better conducted by rail, SUCH HARDSHIP … only in America would this count as horridly impractical, folks…) – but that its capabilities, behaviour, and the problems you may encounter when driving one were all misrepresented.

      Then again, yours is the country of people who will set the cruise control on a Winnebago, then go in the back to make a cup of coffee and try to blame the manufacturer for the inevitable crash because they were too stupid to realise that setting a thing which holds the throttle at a steady speed doesn’t in fact activate a small robot that takes over all aspects of driving for you. It’s still a process which requires a lot of thought and attention, even in 2013. So maybe it’s the wrong car for a country that still has ludicrously cheap gasoline and regards driving as an activity that requires zero mental effort.

      Bring it over to Europe, we’ll be all over it like flies on shit.

      (Well, I may not be, as my general car-buying budget is about 10% of it’s sale price, as I am poor, and my own personal benchmark for an electric is being able to travel 250 miles at 70ish mph during a wet evening in the Christmas holidays with only one fifteen-minute pee break and flash-charge along the way, and returning in a more leisurely fashion after a two night stay with trickle charging and light local use; i.e. it can then sub in for pretty much anything I would ever do with a fossil-powered one.

      But there’s a great many other people with lower personal mobility standards, and if it can do 200-and-some miles at 55mph it’s 90% of the way there already. Slap a 100kWh pack in there and find some way to eke out an extra few yards per kWh, then find me a winning but non-jackpot lottery ticket and a small loan to cover what I’ll save on fuel in the first year so I can pay it back in two, and we’ll talk…)

      1.  The difference in energy use at 54 Mph and 60 Mph would not increase in a linear fashion since the drag from parasitic sources (anything not smooth on the car) increases exponentially. So even a small eternal antenna has a greater effect at higher speeds.

    6. (tl;dr version – if he had actually stuck to the recommended behaviour, and charged it up properly, there wouldn’t have been any trouble, or any actual story. He would have had a perfectly normal, if slightly slow, and slightly more heavily dressed ride up the coast, with a slightly overlong break at the second charge station, and completed the trip in a little more time than you might have taken in a gas car – but paying far less for the “fuel”, and emitting far less carbon dioxide and the like. For equivalent money and energy savings with a traditional vehicle, you would have had to have ridden a 30mph, completely heater-less, 1-gallon-tank moped…

      Be fair, battery technology can only get more capacious and cheaper from here on out, and so therefore will the car itself. The initial early adopter period will be populated largely by middle class eco-wonks and others who have a bit of spare money but couldn’t afford a Roadster and thought the Prius and Volt still had a bit too much fossil-burning technology on board to be worth it, so they’ll be willing to sacrifice a little speed and a little bit of cosseting on the days where they really want to stretch the range – if you’re not going as far, then by all means do 85mph and jack the heat or AC up. By the time yer Man In The Street comes to buy them, the range will be higher, the compromises fewer, and the price lower.

      Besides, these are just the first two east cost charging stations; as the network grows it will not only stretch further, but the locations will be closer together as well. You can then more easily drive for two hours at a reasonable speed, break for a 30 minute leg-stretch and battery-boost, do another 2 hours… etc. You’ll spend more time stopped overall because you’re using more energy per mile, but overall still travel quicker end-to-end as your energy use still won’t outstrip the charge rate until you’re well into triple figures MPH.

      Don’t condemn the entire thing just because one idiot journo couldn’t follow the perfectly fair “early days, yet” advice given to him, then tried to pretend that he did and got in the shit as a result. What I take from this is that if I want to take shorter trips in the areas *around* the chargers at normal speeds, and can withstand a slightly compromised experience that’s still faster and more comfortable than riding the bus on the few occasions I might want to take a stupidly long journey in conditions that are inherently unfriendly to the technology, and have enough sense to read and follow the directions in the manual then the Tesla is definitely up to the challenge.

      Remember how fossil powered cars used to regularly overheat in the height of summer, or need expensive servicing every couple thousand miles, and (for the automatics) throw a transmission shoe if worked hard over a hot mountain pass? Or were difficult to start in winter, maybe needing different oil and coolant too, and had much worse fuel consumption because of being driven very slowly and having to sit with the choke pulled out a lot longer? No-one ever said it was the wrong technology at the wrong time then. They eased off the throttle, turned up the heater/turned off the AC, wound down the windows, and just made sure they were themselves well-lubed before they and their metal steed managed to limp to a garage in the next town, or just dealt with it as “winter, isn’t it”.)

        1. I think the tl;dr of the tl;dr is that many consumers will need factory tech support sitting in the passenger seat.

  7. I’m willing to accept the reporter was not malicious, but instead incompetent. Perhaps he can find some other work.

  8. I had the idea for a Tesla car several decades ago.  Its main feature would would have been multiple Van deGraaf generators that would shoot “lightning” all over the place while you were driving. 

    My evil dad wouldn’t go for it.

  9. Dave Roberts over at Grist has a different take. Basically the whole argument is irrelevant. Getting electric cars to compete on a variable (long distance driving) that they are already known to be weaker at is a pointless exercise, and doing it only serves to demonstrate that people are seeking to resist the bigger system changes needed to wean our economy off fossil fuels.
    Read it:

    1. These gasoline-powered cars are ridiculous – you can only obtain fuel at a few special outlets, unlike my horse and buggy which can find some grass anywhere along the way. What happens if you’re driving one of these fancy new motor cars and you run out of gas between refueling outlets? You’d be in quite a pickle then! No so clever any more are you! Horses don’t have all these silly problems.

        1. If you read the comment you replied to you will hopefully understand that you have badly misread (or are misrepresenting) the above persons sense of humor.

          1. I understood the humor. I also understood the humor was being deployed to make a certain rhetorical point. A point that was inaccurate, as I pointed out. 

          2. it was a very funny and clever comment but you are reading way to much into it.

            the mistake is criticizing what you’ve incorrectly misread into a comment as if it was what the comments author actually wrote.

    2.  I disagree. Being acceptable (though still inferior) at long range trips is the difference between having just one car that is electric and either having two vehicles or renting a vehicle for medium length cross country trips.  The problem seems to be that the writer set the level of “acceptable” at “is as simple to use as a gasoline powered auto.”  Which clearly isn’t the correct question.  The correct question is more “easier than either renting a car or taking the train and renting a car at your destination.”  Because for most destinations some sort of vehicle will be needed when you get to the city in question if it isn’t Manhattan.

      1. Roadtrips is a thing that people only started doing because it fit well with the new abilities of a new technology. In the future, we will be doing new things because they fit well with the new abilities of a new technology. Since we suck at futurism, I’ll make a silly example – price of gas goes up, price of batteries goes down, having one car, and having that car electric, might in the future mean spending $400 on a fuel per year instead of $4000, which in turn may mean that instead of one of those old roadtrips like grandpa (ie us of today) used to do, people gravitate towards regular leisure cruiseship vacations instead. No, it’s not going to work out like that, but it’s kind of short circular to argue that a behavior (roadtrips) that only came into existence because of newer better kinds of buggy replacing horses, is the reason we must avoid newer, better kinds of buggies.
        Analogy that might show how I see it – some musicians became ultra-wealthy because of advances in recorded music technology a few decades ago. More recently, greater advances in that technology (and in the evil of record companies) has all but ended that era, and plenty of people mourn that and resist the loss of music leading to ultra-wealth. Fair enough – ultra-wealth is a cool thing and I can understand that people don’t want to lose that system. But the new era is still better than the last, more people are better off, even though the musicians aren’t getting as ultra-wealthy as some could under the older tech.

    3. All you really need to do is improve the battery capacity and the charge rate until the limiting factor becomes the Nut Behind The Wheel. IE the car can take on more charge whilst the driver is resting (or even, if you have a 2+ person driving team, whilst you’re taking a necessarily simultaneous “comfort break”) than it can then use during a subsequent reasonably-long period of reasonable-speed driving.

      Though it seems the whole “self driving car” thing may disrupt that somewhat. Perhaps future cars will all more resemble camper-vans, and you can sleep or otherwise amuse yourself in the back whilst it travels the road and automatically, periodically pulls up at charge points to replenish the cells, whilst keeping within a preset depart/arrive schedule for the endpoints of the trip…

      As mentioned above my own standards for an electric car are in excess of the Model S, but not by much. If I wanted to be harsh I’d extend them to 300 miles at 80mph with no stops… “just to be sure”, but except for once-a-year transcontinental trips for which I may as well either fly or hire/borrow a fossil burner, 240-250 at ~70mph (…in winter, two-up, with luggage), with a short (under 30 minute) interim fast-charge stop halfway and having it plugged in to a (3kW) mains socket for upto 36 hours at the far end represents as long-haul a trip as I would ever sensibly countenance one-legging in a private car. It’d certainly cover almost everything else I’d ever do with my home address as the only charge point – apart from those rare (3-4 times a year max) extended trips, 120 miles each way round trips, with considerable sub-50mph city sections, would be the maximum, and in a typical month daily mileage would be below 60.

      This is my own existing reality with a reasonably efficient fossil-fuelled car. It just so happens to be the distance my motorbike will run with a conservative hand on the throttle (keeping it below 60), though I’d almost certainly have to stop halfway to work out the cricks.

      The 85kWh Tesla can -almost- do that already. Almost. The improvement required to satisfy that benchmark is fractional rather than revolutionary. Like waiting for a manufacturer to find some way of increasing their fuel tank from 42 to 50 litres and slightly widening their otherwise rather narrow filler pipe … instead of increasing it from 5 litres to 20+ litres and converting it from a dropper pipette to a narrow pipe which is the difference between many early-2000s electric cars and the Model S…(Using full-charge mode would be to increase from 42 to 47 litres, btw, but also mean that the tank would effectively clag up, gradually holding less and less fuel every time you brimmed it…)

  10. I kind of enjoy reading through the comments of religious fanatics acting all moral outraged over nothing.  Instead of repeating their misguided arguments, all I hear is ‘Burn the witch’:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTdDN_MRe64

    1. Calling persons of a particular opinion “religious fanatics” is certainly showing how grounded and mature you are in your obviously superior contrary opinion.

      You show those polarized fanboys how to think!

  11. The story has succeeded in misleading the public and concentrating attention on a much less important metric. Road trips are not what electric cars are for. (Sure, it’s a goal of Tesla to make road trips easier, great.)

    Here’s the real story: If you are NOT going on a road trip, an electric vehicle has PLENTY of range, comfort, and power. Those USED to be barriers, but the actual barrier at this point is purchase price.

  12. Make a car for mass consumption, and then I will care.

    But more to the point, I think reviewers need to be very careful- know the audience, know the product, then make your pros and cons. It appears to me as though the test was done carelessly.

  13. Auto journalism has never been known for it’s integrity (read impartiality), nor have the auto makers behaved ethically and openly.  What did everyone expect? To drive a test car around a parking lot is normal… and to collect data in an extended manner to prevent misrepresentation is also normal… Everyone has sour grapes and only Tesla owners are satisfied… if you dropped 100k on a new-tech car, you’d damn well better be satisfied too… what choice do you have?

  14. Musk’s placement of the quick-charge network right along the Northeast Corridor – already supplied with ample train and bus transit – is what I find faintly ridiculous.

    One-percenters who want to flaunt their green cred in between jet trips to the next environmental summit could much more easily take the train, and not stand shivering in a Maryland “quick charge” station for an hour.

    Now, if I see a chain of these stations going up between, say, Minneapolis and Atlanta, then I’ll believe things are getting serious.

    1. You realise that you don’t have to stand holding the charge gun in the car’s socket for the entire hour like you would a gas pump, right?

      And that they’ve been installed at regular service stops that have toilets, indoor seating, roadhouse restaurants, amusement arcades and little shops?

      Why would the drivers be stood shivering in the cold? Or taking any much longer over the journey than on the bus or train, which still requires them to get to or from their origin and final destination at each end somehow and may well stop several times along the way, travelling at no more than 65mph (Bus, if driving legally) or 80mph (non-“high speed” train) in-between, slowing down much more on the hills and having much less ability to deal with congestion along the way?

  15. I really do not understand how people can distrust the absolute probity and commitment to ethics of one of the founders of PayPal.

      1. “They only got really terrible after eBay bought them.”

        That is a bald faced lie and I have the data to prove it!

  16. The NYT article is fake but for a good reason.  Broder *had* to sex up the story or it would have been boring like the CNN rematch.  “The charging stations were a bit further apart than I would like but I still made it”.  Boring.

    It’s called poetic license and journalists study literature at uni.

  17. Seems to me a genius could develop an idiot-proof car. Hard to argue with commenter class_enemy. And to commenter Xof’s point, BoingBoing has slapped PayPal around a few times for abusive nonsense and ethically challenged shenanigans.

    1. “Seems to me a genius could develop an idiot-proof car.”

      No insult intended, but have you ever worked on a product or any facet of its support?

      Interestingly enough, idiots are clever in ways that geniuses are not. There is no device a genius could devise that a proper idiot could not tank somehow. Their creativity is staggering.

    2. Usually when it comes down to user interfaces, you have to err on the side of eventually allowing the user to do just what they want, even if it comes after copious warnings. The car is nowhere near sentient or intelligent enough to know whether, e.g. its owner is knowingly driving well outside the envelope in order to deal with some exceptional emergency, and just has to trust that they’re big enough and stupid enough to understand and deal with any consequences. It would appear that he was given decent enough advice and warning, if one reads the original article, or at least claims so. It’s his choice whether he pays it any heed, just as it’s his choice to pay heed to the speed limit signs (cruising at more than 70mph at times in a state where 65 is top whack suggests he doesn’t), stop/yield signs, direction signs, temporary signboards showing warnings of works or congestion ahead, flashing police lights, rail crossing lights, traffic lights, brake and turn signal lights, lane markings, the fuel and temperature gauges in a regular car, etc.

      Perhaps some better integration with the navigation system would be an idea – the car can then judge whether the battery is likely to have enough range to complete the plotted journey at the general rate of consumption being imposed by the driver’s right foot/cruise control finger and climate control settings, recommend that they slow down or stop off/detour to find a charge point, and show nearby charging facilities on a map. It may even be a user-settable (and easily emergency-overridable) option to automatically impose a gradual speed limiter and reduction of CC strength when range starts to fall short of remaining journey distance by a critical amount…I’m sort of surprised this hasn’t been done by default, as a very simple version of it would be an afternoon’s work with the GMaps API… or maybe it has and Broder chose to ignore that as well.

      1. I think this is a perfect storm of rigid inflexible design and a less than rigorous review/test drive. He drove the car like a car, as people do, with the ingrained habits and customs of a mature ecosystem. I suspect Tesla will take some of this on board and incorporate it in their design decisions, even if it just means more detailed delivery instructions.

  18. Really? Top Gear manages to do these sorts of challenges all the time. Including driving a car from London to Edinburgh on one tank of fuel – well beyond its published range. Was that a boring article? Hell no!

    1. I’m always amazed at how Top Gear manages to hook me with its silly pointless challenges. The one you refer to, with Clarkson being forced to drive hundreds of miles well within the speed limit was one of my favourites. Right up there with the one where he goes through the London Barrage in a “Live and Let Die” speedboat.

      1. And yet, even he – well known speed freak, seeming ADHD sufferer and fan of POWERRRR – managed to, under simple instruction from some amateur hypermiler on the team, baby a large executive saloon with a V8 engine through a 2-day trip without having to refuel.

        Admittedly it was a diesel, admittedly it had a large fuel tank, and notably he wasn’t going any faster than the trucks (probably cruising around 50-55mph). But he still made it end-to-end in a reasonable amount of time (even if you had a sportscar and pushed your luck the entire way, it’s simply not a round trip you could easily do in one day; maybe on a stolen sportsbike…), and achieved an overall economy about on a par with what my own rather smaller 4-pot gasoline car would have managed for the same trip. Difference being that my car wouldn’t have been just-about able to then go and set a 6-second 0-60 time and run a fairly good 1/4 mile on the remaining sniff of fuel, as it just wouldn’t have the horsepower, and nor could it have done the journey carrying five full grown adults and their luggage in comfort (and, overall, about as quick as and far cheaper than the train).

        It’d be interesting to have him put the Tesla to the test up and down the A1 once it gains sufficient fast-charge points, and see if he can actually make that same round trip at a similar overall speed without “turtling” the car. If Musk would ever again deign to hand him the keys to a Tesla product, that is. Perhaps if he was ordered to approach it with his Serious Journalist head on much as he did for the Audi (he’s no fan of diesels or modern luxo-barges either), with cameras onboard and in tow. Perhaps to demonstrate the much improved state of the art in consumer battery-electrics since they took the Leaf and MiEV out for a spin through the severely underequipped northern England… and to make up for the slightly questionable veracity of said report.

    1. Baby steps, Euan, baby steps… who’s to say they won’t get there in the end?

      All the same it would probably be quite hard maintaining the requisite field density to keep a tonne of metal rolling at 100+ km/h without risking a hell of a lot of flashover incidents and cooking the internal organs of people with too many piercings.

  19. I’m with Tesla, in that anything at all that screws with the progress towards cleaner air and lower energy usage is my enemy.  And I hate my enemies.

    Renewables and EV tech has been stalled and harmed by multiple corporate interests over the years, and it’s time the whole thing got flying.

        1. Just stating facts about our current situation with the supply situation. Here in Maine we once had a surplus of power and had a great deal generated at privately owned hydro facilities. Then they deregulated, no one could make even 1 cent per KWH, so they quit feeding the grid.  Now we pay over 18 cents per KWH for electricity supplied by Florida Power and Light over our local supplier’s lines.  I never claimed to have a solution, but I don’t see how coal powered cars are an environmental improvement over an efficient diesel or gasoline economy car.

          1. “Then they deregulated, no one could make even 1 cent per KWH”

            Deregulation leading to a drop in utility profits? Has that ever happened anywhere at any point without Enron maths?

          2. When the power companies were forced to buy back excess power from home producers at a fraction of retail price, there were privately owned dams that earned quite a bit of money for their owners.
            After deregulation, the power companies were not required by the PUC to buy back the power, so they didn’t.  The original high capacity of Maine’s electrical grid was to support all of the manufacturing plants that are now mostly closed.
            Less electricity at a higher price is what makes CMP and FPL’s shareholders happy.

  20. Personally, I like it when journalism hits hard. But I also think that if journalism can hit hard, there shouldn’t be any criticism when people hit back.

  21. Musk’s “nasty habit” is sort of typical of techies, “the end user is always wrong, I can prove it with my data. Anyway, just RTFM!” 
    The question of expectations is important.  Most people would expect a car to “just work.”I don’t know anything about the journalist. He seems to be one of the Times’ regular automotive reporters, so he should somewhat sophisticated, and this was a “test drive.”  But I’ve done interface design, and am frequently surprised when I try a new system at what other designers consider obvious and I find mystifying.Maybe I’m stupid. In any event, Musk’s response is hardly one designed to win friends or customers.

    1. Hugely important ppoint, and one ignored by most engineer types. Musk’s egocentrism is the issue here, where a good faith user is excoriated becayse he didn’t use perfect and complete knowledge, because he’s not Musk.

  22. Broder made some real points about decreased range in the cold, especially overnight.  But he disconnected his car from a charger when the range said 32 miles, when he wanted to go 61 miles.  The car made it 51 miles before Broder achieved his goal of running out of gas like an idiot.

    He said Tesla techs told him to charge it only an hour, so he did what they said.  He was trying to trap them and run out of gas.  That’s what he did.

    If it’s too hard for ‘ordinary’ folks to understand that “32 miles” on the dashboard means that the car can’t go 61 miles, then EVs are certainly too new-fangled for ordinary folks.  Like Broder.  Fail.

  23. What I want to know is the ratio of Musk crying foul, and how many times those cries were valid. His SNR, if you would.

    I mean if he cries foul a LOT but his claims are MOSTLY valid… Then he’s not doing anything wrong. But if they are mostly proven otherwise… Well. Then that’s not cool.

  24. So exactly why should I buy the New York Times paper or subscribe online when at best sloppy journalism as presented by Broder is somehow acceptable because he might have had the right intentions on the outset? Shouldn’t his intention as an NYT reporter is be accurate? Exactly what am I not getting here? And why are we angry at Musk for calling this out? Isn’t that blaming the victim?

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