Tesla Claims Model S Driving Logs Show NYT Reporter Worked To Kill Its Battery


As promised, Tesla CEO and founder Elon Musk has fired back against New York Times reporter John M. Broder's ill-fated test drive of the Model S, and he has done so with data logs from the car. And these logs appear, at least, to contradict some of what Broder wrote in his story.

Musk's response to the Times' drive, which was meant to test the company's Supercharger stations in the northeast, was posted on Tesla's website late Wednesday night. It is an extremely detailed response with graphs and various charts that pinpoint the differences between events reported in Broder's story and what the car recorded. Musk initially called the story "fake"; he now has data he says backs up that claim. 

Musk said that after the debacle with Top Gear a few years ago, the company has carefully logged all data from media drives.

If the logs are in fact accurate, then Broder exceeded the speeds he reported in the story, never fully charged the car when he had multiple opportunities to do so, turned up his climate control when he said he lowered it, and even drove in circles in a parking lot for five minutes in what Musk said was an attempt to kill the battery.

Here are some of the "key facts," as Musk sees them: 

  • 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 Claims Model S Driving Logs Show NYT Reporter Worked To Kill Its Battery

Above, we see the logs of where Broder charged the car along the journey. If this is indeed accurate, then why didn't he fill it more to the maximum when he could have?

Let's look at Broder's stop in Norwich, where the charge was stopped at 28 percent. Here's what he wrote about his Norwich stop: 

The Tesla people found an E.V. charging facility that Norwich Public Utilities had recently installed. Norwich, an old mill town on the Thames River, was only 11 miles away, though in the opposite direction from Milford.

After making arrangements to recharge at the Norwich station, I located the proper adapter in the trunk, plugged in and walked to the only warm place nearby, Butch’s Luncheonette and Breakfast Club, an establishment (smoking allowed) where only members can buy a cup of coffee or a plate of eggs. But the owners let me wait there while the Model S drank its juice. Tesla’s experts said that pumping in a little energy would help restore the power lost overnight as a result of the cold weather, and after an hour they cleared me to resume the trip to Milford.

Looking back, I should have bought a membership to Butch’s and spent a few hours there while the car charged.

Broder's Model S had an 85 kwh battery. Tesla's own website says that a 30 minute stop there will give you 150 miles of range. (Edit: The Norwich station was not a Supercharger station, but a normal EV station, so presumably it would have taken longer to charge fully.) So why didn't he take more time to charge it all the way?  

Tesla Claims Model S Driving Logs Show NYT Reporter Worked To Kill Its Battery

The car's logs also show that the Model S exceeded its supposed range limitations while in Connecticut. When Broder left Norwich, the car reported 32 miles of range, but it actually drove 61 miles, according to Tesla. 

I'm still a bit skeptical of their account. Numerical data doesn't always illustrate real-world driving conditions and what actually happens on the road. Plus, Musk makes 74 degrees inside the cabin sound like 100 degrees, which it isn't.

And then there's the bit about Broder driving around a parking lot until the battery died. What's the more plausible scenario here — that Broder was searching for a space in a crowded lot, as we all have done, or that he's a biased journalist looking to get a sensational story?

Actually, Musk's claim that the car was driven "around in circles in front of the Milford Supercharger trying to get Model S to stop with zero range indicated" is pretty disingenuous. Note that the Milford station is on an off-ramp and it isn't at all small. A single loop around the station is nearly a 1/3rd of a mile, and if you make a wrong turn (or even hunt for the charger) and make one turn around you're at 1/2 mile.

Tesla Claims Model S Driving Logs Show NYT Reporter Worked To Kill Its Battery

I'm sure the Times will step up to defend their story. At this point, probably the only person who knows what really happened is Broder. I'll be the first to say this — if he was intentionally less than accurate in his story, then he needs to find a new line of work. I hope that's not the case. 

Musk isn't pulling his punches when it comes to Broder, either, saying he is biased against electric cars. "When the facts didn’t suit his opinion, he simply changed the facts," Musk wrote. He bases this claim on a single line in one of his stories from last year: 

"Yet the state of the electric car is dismal, the victim of hyped expectations, technological flops, high costs and a hostile political climate.”

I think most of us would consider that to be common sense and a fairly realistic assessment of the current electric car market. But then again, most of us aren't Elon Musk.

Photos credit AP, Tesla Motors Blog