Following a bold accusation from Tesla CEO Elon Musk that a terrible road-trip with the Model S was "fake," New York Times reporter John M. Broder has clarified that he may have made some operator mistakes but did not make anything up about the car's poor performance. This is what Broder says happened when he charged before making the 206-mile trip from Deleware to Connecticut:
When I first charged the car, which was equipped with the highest-capacity battery available, of 85 kilowatt-hours at the Tesla Supercharger station in Newark, Del., I left it connected to the cable for 49 minutes until the dash display read “Charging Complete.” The battery meter read 90 percent full with a range of 242 miles.
I was not directed by anyone at Tesla at any time to then switch to the Max Range setting and wait to top off the battery. If I had, I might have picked up an additional 25 or so miles of range, but that would have taken as long as 30 additional minutes.
The car has a special "max range," which would have given him enough juice to make it all the way to the charging station, suggests Musk. Broder, however, is skeptical of that assertion and claims Tesla warns such-charging will shorten battery life, presumably over time.
As for those "logs" Musk claims prove Broder took a long road trip, they supposedly show that he took a long detour, Broder still asserts that he took "a brief stop in Manhattan on my way to Connecticut that, according to Google Maps, added precisely two miles to the overall distance traveled from the Delaware Supercharger to Milford." The logs also, per Broder, show that he drove over 75 miles per hour, a speed that would have drained the battery. Broder contends that happened on his way from the DC suburbs to the first charging station in Newark Delaware, so it wouldn't have mattered.
Musk has yet to put out that blog post he promised yesterday. But has since doubled down on his allegation that Broder was out to smear the Tesla brand.
@satinsilence Wow, no surprise that Broder wrote a hit piece on Tesla. I guess we were pretty dumb to agree to an article by this guy.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 11, 2013
That tweet pointed back to a March 2012 story Broder wrote about the challenges facing the electric car industry: "... the state of the electric car is dismal, the victim of hyped expectations, technological flops, high costs and a hostile political climate."
At this point, with this much evidence on the table, there doesn't appear to be much disagreement between Musk and Broder: he used his Model S in a way that kept it from reaching its destination.
But what about someone looking to buy a Model S? They would take note that driving the car 200 miles is no easy feat — or at least not as easy as they've come to expect from a gas-powered car. It's worth noting that drivers rarely need a car to drive 200 miles. According to Federal Highway Administration statistics, just 3 percent of all vehicle trips in 2011 were longer than 50 miles. So these long-distance treks are, for most drivers, edge-case scenarios.
But still, anyone buying a car would probably want to know if it can handle a road trip. And the answer here seems to be, yes, if you make a lot of compromises. Holding the speed limit might have helped with Broder's battery problem. But how many drivers want to do that in a car that supposedly handles like a dream? Broder could have charged it to the max, but that would have taken an extra 30 minutes and could also do overall damage to the battery. Even the fear of getting stranded far from a station might be enough to turn buyers off. The Verge's test-driver ran into similar anxieties when testing the battery's longevity:
There were some tense moments on that final stretch, culminating in a painfully long hill leading into Morro Bay that I was almost certain would do us in. The estimated range on my instrument panel at that point was one mile. I needed a charger immediately. I turned off the radio and climate control to save power, fogging the windows to the point that I nearly couldn’t see.
Musk himself even admitted to Broder that 200 miles is too-far way: "Mr. Musk called me on Friday, before the article went up on the Web, to offer sympathy and regrets about the outcome of my test drive. He said that the East Coast charging stations should be 140 miles apart, not 200 miles, to take into account the traffic and temperature extremes in this part of the country," writes Broder. That, at least, might change:
Btw, more free East Coast Superchargers coming soon. Will allow lower initial charge, v high speed trip & long detours, like NYTimes drive.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 11, 2013