Tesla releases damning logs from New York Times test-drive (UPDATED)

© Tesla

Update: Tesla vs. New York Times: Epilogue

Accusations, rebuttals, rebuttals to rebuttals, etc

For those who missed the first two acts of the Tesla-New York Times saga, allow me to summarize quickly: First, Tesla CEO Elon Musk wrote on Twitter that a NYT review of the Model S and Tesla Supercharger network on the East Coast by John M. Broder was "fake" and that he had the logs to prove it. Then Broder responded with a long defense of his original article, putting the ball back on Tesla's side of the court. We're now firmly in the third act...

Tesla has just released its logs from the Model S electric sedan that it had lent the NYT for the review along with analysis explaining what the graphs mean and how they match up with the NYT's claims. Ever since the controversy with Top Gear in the UK, Tesla has been turning on the logging feature on all vehicles that are loaned to the media for review (but if you're a Tesla owner, don't worry, they ask for permission to do that).

© Tesla

So what are the logs showing? In my opinion they're pretty convincing. First, here's how Tesla summarizes the key facts (sorry it's long, but I don't want to cut out anything important):

  • As the State of Charge log shows, the Model S battery never ran out of energy at any time, including when Broder called the flatbed truck.
  • The final leg of his trip was 61 miles and yet he disconnected the charge cable when the range display stated 32 miles. He did so expressly against the advice of Tesla personnel and in obvious violation of common sense.
  • In his article, Broder claims that “the car fell short of its projected range on the final leg.” Then he bizarrely states that the screen showed “Est. remaining range: 32 miles” and the car traveled “51 miles," contradicting his own statement (see images below). The car actually did an admirable job exceeding its projected range. Had he not insisted on doing a nonstop 61-mile trip while staring at a screen that estimated half that range, all would have been well. He constructed a no-win scenario for any vehicle, electric or gasoline.
  • On that leg, he drove right past a public charge station while the car repeatedly warned him that it was very low on range.
  • Cruise control was never set to 54 mph as claimed in the article, nor did he limp along at 45 mph. Broder in fact drove at speeds from 65 mph to 81 mph for a majority of the trip and at an average cabin temperature setting of 72 F.
  • At the point in time that he claims to have turned the temperature down, he in fact turned the temperature up to 74 F.
  • The charge time on his second stop was 47 mins, going from -5 miles (reserve power) to 209 miles of Ideal or 185 miles of EPA Rated Range, not 58 mins as stated in the graphic attached to his article. Had Broder not deliberately turned off the Supercharger at 47 mins and actually spent 58 mins Supercharging, it would have been virtually impossible to run out of energy for the remainder of his stated journey.
  • For his first recharge, he charged the car to 90%. During the second Supercharge, despite almost running out of energy on the prior leg, he deliberately stopped charging at 72%. On the third leg, where he claimed the car ran out of energy, he stopped charging at 28%. Despite narrowly making each leg, he charged less and less each time. Why would anyone do that?
  • The above helps explain a unique peculiarity at the end of the second leg of Broder’s trip. When he first reached our Milford, Connecticut Supercharger, having driven the car hard and after taking an unplanned detour through downtown Manhattan to give his brother a ride, the display said "0 miles remaining." Instead of plugging in the car, he drove in circles for over half a mile in a tiny, 100-space parking lot. When the Model S valiantly refused to die, he eventually plugged it in. On the later legs, it is clear Broder was determined not to be foiled again.

Tesla further implies that Broder was biased against electric cars based on a piece that her wrote for the NYT a year earlier, where he writes: "Yet the state of the electric car is dismal, the victim of hyped expectations, technological flops, high costs and a hostile political climate.” Did Broder change the facts when they didn't conform to his expectations? Here's what the logs show:

© Tesla

The first log shows the difference between the speeds in the NYT piece and the speeds at which the car actually went, making a difference in expected range (same as with a gasoline car).

© Tesla

The second graph shows that the car's battery was nowhere near fully charged, especially at the last two stops, contrary to what was claimed.

© Tesla

This graph is similar to the previous one but shows the expected driving range at each charging point.

© Tesla

Here the data shows that climate controls were not used the way claimed in the article, another factor for driving range, and probably also showing that Broder's description of his "shaking" and "shivering" during that part of the drive is less than accurate...

© Tesla

This one, according to Tesla, shows the car "driving around in circles in front of the Milford Supercharger trying to get Model S to stop with zero range indicated".

© Tesla

Highlighting some inaccuracies in the graphic attached to Broder's NYT article.

© Tesla

This one shows on the right where Broder left from with the car indicating 32 miles of range. The arrow near the middle is where the car should have stopped after 32 miles, but it actually went 51 miles, which still wasn't far enough but better than expected. But still, if you leave for a long trip with an almost empty tank of gas, the same will happen and it'll be your fault, not the car's.

© Tesla

And finally, this map shows all the EV charging stations along Broder's entire route, which are accessible from the car's onboard computer.

What next?

Will this be the end of the controversy? How will the New York Times respond? How can they respond? At some point does it just become Broder's word against Tesla's detailed logs and real-world data from other reviews? It's certainly possible that there's a logical explanation for everything, but somehow I doubt it.

Tesla says this is their final statement on the issue, and that no one from Tesla – including CEO Elon Musk – will be providing additional comment on this topic moving forward. They feel the data speaks for itself.

John M. Broder only has tweeted this in response so far, saying that the NYT will respond to Tesla's detailed accusations "later today":


Update: The New York Times hasn't yet published its response to Tesla's, but this story already has more back and forth than table tennis match. It's now The Atlantic Wire's turn to join the fray with a piece that tries to rebut Tesla's rebuttal of the NYT's rebuttal of Elon Musk's Tweets, if you follow. And if you aren't deep enough in the rabbit hole, there's an ongoing discussion of the rebuttal here with some interesting counter-points.

Some of the Altantic's points are good, some are weaker (at one point they dismiss a claim because: "His other chart shows the mile range dipped below zero, which would indicate the car could not move", but EVs like gas-powered cars have reserves even after the fuel gauge reaches zero). But it's indeed possible that some of that data has been interpreted by Tesla one way while in fact it could have meant something else (ie. circling around the charging station could actually have been Broder just looking for the chargers). Maybe Tesla went too far. But the core issues remain that the NYT's journalist seems to have reported one thing and done a different thing, including not charging the car completely when he had the chance (multiple times), and especially unplugging the car from a charging station to leave for a 61 miles trip when the car had only been charged to 32 miles of range, something that could easily have been avoided by charging more, but it would have killed the "I ran out of juice" headline. Just that last point, if it can't be explained by the NYT, pretty much makes the case in my opinion.

Update 2: John M. Broder, the New York Times journalist who wrote the review that caused all this controversy, has published his response to Tesla. He does make some good points, but a lot of it ends up turning into a he-said she-said thing, and unless Tesla recorded the calls between them, it can be hard to know what really was said. I do find it a bit hard to believe that a veteran auto journalist who's been working with electric cars for a long time could have believed some of the things that Broder says he believed (Extending range by speeding up and slowing down on the highway? What about the second law of thermodynamics?), but stranger things have happened.

Tesla's case against the New York Times is definitely not as strong after these explanations, but I can't say I'm entirely convinced by Broder either. It remains that details from his original article were inaccurate or omitted, and that either the Tesla people that he spoke to on the phone gave him bad advice, or that he misunderstood them, or that something else entirely was said. We can't be sure exactly, but I do know that all this wouldn't have happened if Broder had charged the car a bit longer at any station that he stopped at near the end of his trip (at least until the car's display said he had enough charge to finish his trip -- the common sense thing to do) or if he had plugged-in overnight when he stopped to sleep, something that pretty much all EV owners do and represents a more real-world usage case. And did he really believe that a car showing 32 miles of range would get over 60?

I don't believe that Broder is a moustache-twirling villain, but I'm not sure if he really tried to make things work or if aimed to fail because that's a better story. After hearing both sides, I don't think we can be sure either way, and if Tesla sticks to its policy of "no further comments", we won't get more details.

In any case, as I keep repeating, all of this will soon be moot as more Supercharger stations are built around the country (and besides, in a real-world use, an EV driver would have stopped at one of the dozens of public charging stations before completely running out of energy).

Update 3: A CNN reporter made a similar trip to Broder's and reports his experience here. Seems like he made it without too much trouble even though he made the trip in a single day (Broder took 2) and he took a 30 miles detour to avoid traffic. He mentions that the 200 miles stretch between Newark, Delaware, and Milford, Connecticut, is a bit tougher and that Tesla should add a Supercharger in between those two points (something that Tesla will do), but aside from that, nothing seemed to bother the CNN reporter too much ("it wasn't that hard").

Update 4: CNN has uploaded a new video to go with the same story. Here it is:

Via Tesla Motors

See also: New York Times Model S review is 'fake', says Tesla CEO (UPDATED)

Tags: Electric Cars | Electric Vehicles

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