New York Times Reporter Unimpressed by Tesla’s Model S Test Drive Data

The Tesla Model S, Motor Trend Car of the Year is introduced at the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, January 15, 2013.
Photo: Stan HondaSTAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images2013 AFP

New York Times reporter John Broder was not going to let Tesla CEO Elon Musk have the last word after Musk accused him of manipulating a road test of its Model S sedan and East Coast Supercharger network of recharging stations. When Musk posted data collected from the car, which he said supported a litany of charges that Broder deliberately torpedoed the test, Broder promised a “detailed rebuttal” to each point. On Thursday evening, he posted it. There is, as promised, a lot of detail, but Broder’s overall point is that he was following the directions of Tesla personnel on the phone, and operating the car like a normal driver, and it still didn’t work very well.

Musk accused Broder of driving “right past a public charge station while the car repeatedly warned him that it was very low on range,” for example. Broder responded that “if there was a public charging station nearby, no one made me aware of it,” saying a Tesla support staffer directed him to one further down the road.

Musk also accused Broder of disconnecting a power source early, “expressly against the advice of Tesla personnel and in obvious violation of common sense.” Again, Broder cited Tesla’s phone support people: “The Tesla personnel whom I consulted over the phone – Ms. Ra and Mr. Merendino – told me to leave it connected for an hour, and after that the lost range would be restored. I did not ignore their advice.”

To Musk’s charge that he drove the car too fast, Broder explains that he was trying to stay with traffic, and it’s here that he sounds most like a layman using a new technology the way it seems like it should work, but not the way it does actually perform best:

“Cruise control was never set to 54 m.p.h. as claimed in the article, nor did he limp along at 45 m.p.h. Broder in fact drove at speeds from 65 m.p.h. to 81 m.p.h. for a majority of the trip, and at an average cabin temperature setting of 72 F.”

I drove normally (at the speed limit or with prevailing traffic) when I thought it was prudent to do so. I do recall setting the cruise control to about 54 m.p.h., as I wrote. The log shows the car traveling about 60 m.p.h. for a nearly 100-mile stretch on the New Jersey Turnpike. I cannot account for the discrepancy, nor for a later stretch in Connecticut where I recall driving about 45 m.p.h., but 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. That just might have affected the recorded speed, range, rate of battery depletion or any number of other parameters. Tesla’s data suggests I was doing slightly more than 50 over a stretch where the speed limit was 65. The traffic was heavy in that part of Connecticut, so cruise control was not usable, and I tried to keep the speed at 50 or below without impeding traffic.

Certainly, and as Tesla’s logs clearly show, much of my driving was at or well below the 65 m.p.h. speed limit, with only a single momentary spike above 80. Most drivers are aware that cars can speed up, even sometimes when cruise control is engaged, on downhill stretches.

If you were hoping this would be the last you heard of Musk v. Times v. Tesla, you’re out of luck. CNN’s Abigail Bassett and Peter Valdes-Dapena are re-testing Broder’s route from Washington, D.C. to Boston, and both Musk and Tesla are eagerly looking forward to their results.

Times Reporter Unimpressed by Tesla’s Data