New York Times Makes It Sound Like Tesla Doesn't Know How Their Own Car Works

John M. Broder, the New York Times reporter involved in now-infamous failed Tesla Model S drive up the East Coast, has responded to Tesla CEO Elon Musk's claim that he greased the test and lied in his story. Broder's explanation? He did what he was told to do by Tesla employees — they just gave him bad advice. 

Broder, posting tonight in the NYT's Wheels blog, has a detailed rebuttal to each of the claims Musk made in his own blog last night. Broder re-iterates much of what he wrote in the original story, as he and his paper stand by the report, but he also said Musk made some false claims in his own response. 

And he also makes it sound like Tesla isn't sure how their car works, or how best to maximize its range, especially in cold weather. Here are some of the highlights from Broder's post:

  • Broder had concerns about the Model S' range and was following advice from Tesla employees. "About three hours into the trip, I placed the first of about a dozen calls to Tesla personnel expressing concern about the car’s declining range and asking how to reach the Supercharger station in Milford, Conn. I was given battery-conservation advice at that time (turn off the cruise control; alternately slow down and speed up to take advantage of regenerative braking) that was later contradicted by other Tesla personnel."
  • Broder says he did as he was instructed, but their advice didn't help the car's range. "Beginning early in the morning of my second day with the car, after the projected range had dropped precipitously while parked overnight, I spoke numerous times with Christina Ra, Tesla’s spokeswoman at the time, and Ted Merendino, a Tesla product planner at the company’s headquarters in California. They told me that the loss of battery power when parked overnight could be restored by properly “conditioning” the battery, a half-hour process, which I undertook by sitting in the car with the heat on low, as they instructed. That proved ineffective; the conditioning process actually reduced the range by 24 percent (to 19 miles, from 25 miles)."
  • He says he wasn't driving around a parking lot trying to drain the battery.  He said he was looking for an "unlighted and poorly marked" Supercharger station in the dark. 

  • He says he didn't intentionally pass by a charging station in Connecticut. "If there was a public charging station nearby, no one made me aware of it. The Tesla person with whom I was in contact located on the Internet a public charging station in East Haven, Conn., and that is the one I was trying to reach when the car stalled in Branford, about five miles shy of East Haven." 

  • He says Tesla knew about what Musk called his "unplanned detour" into Manhattan — and he didn't go there after all.  "The stop in Manhattan was planned from the beginning and known to Tesla personnel all along. According to Google Maps, taking the Lincoln Tunnel into Manhattan (instead of crossing at the George Washington Bridge) and driving up the West Side Highway added only two miles to the overall distance from Newark, Del., to Milford, Conn. Neither I nor the Model S ever visited 'downtown Manhattan.'"

Broder's response is quite detailed, but at the same time, Musk has extensive data of his own. I highly doubt this latest salvo in the war of words between the paper and Tesla is over, and I expect Musk to fire back at some point on his own. 

I will say this, however: Many critics of the Times have accused Broder of blatantly lying when he did this story, and they have brought up their previous issues with factual errors and fabricated stories. These are well-documented elsewhere.

But as Broder himself notes in his post, he's a seasoned reporter, a 16-year veteran of the paper and a former White House correspondant and Los Angeles bureau chief. He's also done auto reviews for the paper too, so he knows his way around a car. Does he really sound like some hotshot out to make a name for himself with a sensational, made-up story? I don't think he fits that profile. 

The ball's in your court again, Mr. Musk. We're still waiting to see how this gets settled. 

Photo credit Tesla