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Elon Musk Lays Out His Evidence That NYT Tesla Test Drive Was Staged 841

Posted by timothy
from the relax-cbs-does-this-all-the-time dept.
mykepredko writes "Tesla Motors CEO and founder Elon Musk definitely isn't the best guy to try to pull a fast one on. The visionary entrepreneur set Twitter a titter when he claimed earlier this week that New York Times writer John Broder had fudged details about the Tesla Models S car's range in cold weather, resulting in what he termed a 'fake' article. Musk promised evidence, and now he has delivered, via the official Tesla blog."
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Elon Musk Lays Out His Evidence That NYT Tesla Test Drive Was Staged

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  • Pathetic. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 14, 2013 @01:27PM (#42897163)

    Did John Broder think that in a car as sophisticated as the Tesla they wouldn't keep event the simplest of logs? My home router keeps more detail than it took to debunk this story. When I'm 30 miles from stranded my far less sophisticated Volt starts nagging and the Nav system offers "Plot a course to the nearest refueling point?" If you ignore this for half an hour, I assume you run out of gas. I'll never know.

    Fake news enthusiasts should probably form a club so they can bounce ideas off one another and prevent embarrassingly weak lies from getting into print. It makes them all look... lame.

    • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @01:43PM (#42897389)
      Also, why would he try to tarnish this car? He doesn't appear to own an oil company.
      • Re:Pathetic. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by hEpen (96597) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @01:44PM (#42897413)

        Maybe they own him.

        • Re:Pathetic. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @02:04PM (#42897771)

          Yes, there's a loud and large lobby of anti wind, anti solar and anti electric car types out there furiously churning up as much FUD-mud as possible, hurling around accusations and insinuations as quickly as they can wheel them out. Lies and misdirection. The only question is whether it's a real grassroots effort from the genuinely misinformed or a directed public opinion massaging effort. My guess is a healthy combination of the two, particularly because these types will never ever admit they were wrong and will never ever stop arguing.

          • Re:Pathetic. (Score:5, Insightful)

            by SomePgmr (2021234) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @02:10PM (#42897885) Homepage
            Yeah it was probably a global political conspiracy funded by big oil. Not some dumbass from the NYT that wanted a sensational story instead of another, "yeah it works as advertised."
            • Re:Pathetic. (Score:5, Insightful)

              by Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @02:21PM (#42898127)

              I never said anything about big oil. But now that you mention it, yes businesses do try to stifle new technology they feel threatened by. Take for example the antics of the RIAA.

        • John Broder, Oil Man (Score:5, Informative)

          by naroom (1560139) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @02:51PM (#42898731)
          Look at other articles he has written [nytimes.com]. He is consistently pro-oil and anti-environmentalist.

          See: Dirty Hippies get arrested for obstructing the utopian big oil future [nytimes.com].

          This guy is an oil shill.
      • Re:Pathetic. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Baloroth (2370816) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @01:53PM (#42897539)

        Also, why would he try to tarnish this car? He doesn't appear to own an oil company.

        Could be as simple as page views. A story saying the car doesn't perform as advertised generates a lot more interest than one saying "yep, everything worked as expected." Just like Top Gear did a while back. Of course, I stopped expecting Top Gear to be reliable a while back and now just enjoy it as pure entertainment (which it really is), but this guy pretended to be writing a genuine news story.

        • Re:Pathetic. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Catbeller (118204) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @02:32PM (#42898313) Homepage

          Top Gear implicitly presents themselves as reviewers. They never state, unless they are being sued, that they are faking. In the Tesla case, they admitted the shot of the Tesla towed with dead batteries was a fake. They had scripted the battery failure. Their excuse? It's just a TV show, duh.

          They weren't found "innocent". The judge said his court wasn't there to judge truthfulness, only liability for financial damage and a case for libel. He found the show non-libelous, and he, somehow, determined Tesla took no monetary damage from the show.

          I don't watch Top Gear. I don't understand the purpose of faked reviews. People do take it seriously.

          The NYT needs suing. Now.

          • Re:Pathetic. (Score:5, Insightful)

            by bWareiWare.co.uk (660144) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @03:10PM (#42899045) Homepage

            Anyone who can watch 5 minutes of Top Gear without realising it is a sitcom couldn't afford a Tesla anyway.

          • Re:Pathetic. (Score:5, Insightful)

            by vux984 (928602) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @03:41PM (#42899667)

            Top Gear implicitly presents themselves as reviewers.

            People do take it seriously.

            And they race sports cars against people on bicycles and bobsleds. Play conkers with caravans. Build their own boat-cars. And launch rocket powered cars off of ski lifts...

            They put cars through absurd challenges, the scoring is completely arbitrary and they usually cheat.

            They negatively review the Porsche Cayman because "people who drive it know its because they can't afford a 911". They rated the Ford GT 'seriously uncool' simply because one of them owns one. They dislike french cars for being french, American cars for being built for Americans, and if a Ferrari breaks down on the show, all is forgiven because you don't buy a Ferrari for reliability anyway...

            Its a great show, and I enjoy it tremendously.

            But you have to watch it the way one watches The Daily Show or The Colbert Report; in that there is a great deal of truth and even insight on display if you know how to recognize it, but if you take it too seriously you are just going to make a complete ass of yourself.

      • Re:Pathetic. (Score:5, Informative)

        by Catbeller (118204) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @02:25PM (#42898193) Homepage

        He doesn't like electric cars. He's written extensively on his dislike. No need for conspiracy. He just tanked the test.

      • Re:Pathetic. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @02:28PM (#42898261) Journal

        Also, why would he try to tarnish this car? He doesn't appear to own an oil company.

        Which gets yet-another-nearly-interchangeable-columnist more hits?

        Option 1: 'I drove a Tesla S. It takes longer to charge than to pump gas; but is otherwise pretty ok.'

        Option 2: "Electric so-called 'supercar' strands writer during epic freezing nighmare journey!"

        Writing for the NYT moves at a slower pace than being a blogger and whoring for hits; but is subject to the same basic incentive structures.

      • Re:Pathetic. (Score:5, Informative)

        by drkim (1559875) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @04:03PM (#42900027)

        Also, why would he try to tarnish this car? He doesn't appear to own an oil company.

        Broder has a negative bias about electrics, and the flap no doubt sells papers.

        In an article he wrote March of last year he said: "Yet the state of the electric car is dismal, the victim of hyped expectations, technological flops, high costs and a hostile political climate.”

        Here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/sunday-review/the-electric-car-unplugged.html?pagewanted=all&_r=4& [nytimes.com]

    • Re:Pathetic. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by swilde23 (874551) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @02:00PM (#42897683) Journal

      This isn't entirely accurate, but it's wrong in a way that makes Broder look even worse.

      After Tesla's Top Gear debacle [wikipedia.org], they put logging devices in the cars and had future reviewers agree to their use [google.com]. This is something that Broder was (or should have been) aware of.

    • Re:Pathetic. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by sjames (1099) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @02:24PM (#42898177) Homepage

      The really sad part is that even without the logs, his own story doesn't add up. He plainly states that he left Milford with a displayed range of 32 miles and ran out of power at 52 miles, then claims that actual range was SHORTER than the projected range.

      I would typically be very skeptical of a review rebuttal from a company, but given that and the detailed data Musk provided, I'm convinced the 'review' was a hatchet job.

  • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @01:38PM (#42897305)

    But, I bet that oil company envelope he got under the table will make his humiliation more palatable.

  • A Good Story (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 14, 2013 @01:39PM (#42897313)

    Why let facts get in the way of a good story?

    Anyone who is surprised to see this from a newspaper shouldn't be. They aren't in the business of telling the news - they're in the business of selling papers and putting advertising in front of eyeballs.

    Unfortunately.

  • by TheGratefulNet (143330) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @01:39PM (#42897315)

    not to worry, sir, its normal. please type 'ifconfig' and read back its contents for me and I'll check on its next-hop adjacency while you do that.

  • The logs don't lie (Score:5, Insightful)

    by talexb (223672) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @01:41PM (#42897349) Homepage Journal

    Musk was smart -- the logs don't lie, and they don't jibe with what the reporter said. Now, this was in print, in the new York Times -- I'd be fascinated to have seen the same story reported with in-car cameras. I have a funny feeling it would turn out differently.

    And for Top Gear to film a bunch of people pushing the Tesla they were test-driving -- implying that it had run out of go, when in fact it still had some juice left -- that's just rotten. Entertaining TV, but crummy journalism, and cheap.

  • by bruce_the_moose (621423) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @01:42PM (#42897377)
    Ten years ago it was the car companies, now it's the automotive press that seems determined to hasten its demise. Sad.
  • Theory (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Qrypto (462155) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @01:45PM (#42897441)

    Theory: Broder didn't realize the logging capabilities of the car, and when the Model S' software ui initially supported his internal baises he took liberties with the truth. By "documenting" his experience through Tesla support he attempted to falsely add credence to what would be a traffic generating, "anti-electric" review masked in the journalistic repute of the NYT.

    Firstly, all of Broder's excessive winging about the cold weather (I think) was designed to subtly imply that the Model S doesn't work in the cold. You future buyer, will be cold and your car will break. This is why Musk had to address the cold weather link directly in the evidence blog posting.

    Secondly. Broder likely couldn't have fathomed that every parameter in the car was being logged. Very specific details add credibility and character to a story. They make the author appear diligent, and one who gives great attention to detail. In the past such details were a "literary tool used to bend the story. Now thanks to data driven engineering words and truth in such matters should align more closely.

    Lastly. For a man who may or may not have a bias against electric vehicles (cars at least), the observation that "the estimated range was falling faster than miles were accumulating" at the outset of the author's journey might have set the tone of the coming review. With all the incessant calls to Tesla support to document all the "trouble", Broder had plenty of documentation to support his (what was IMHO a) journalistic malignment. This angle also had the added benefit of generating views for NYT - plus through the courtesy of Tesla arranging a tow - the money shot.

    I hope NYT has the ethical chops to do what they must.

    (comment posted first at http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5220302 [ycombinator.com])

    • Re:Theory (Score:5, Interesting)

      by JustinOpinion (1246824) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @03:26PM (#42899393)
      Unless these logs were doctored (unlikely), then Broder lied. However, the one claim of Broder's that Tesla doesn't try to debunk is the loss of charge from overnight cold. Looking at the graphs, somewhere around mile 400, there is a sudden drop in charge from ~45% to ~38%, with a corresponding drop in estimated range from ~80 miles to ~20 miles (the two are not linearly related, presumably because of the intrincacies of the charge/discharge curve being nonlinear). This seems to correspond to what Broder said, that by letting the car sit in the cold, it lost 2/3 of its range.

      This is the one negative thing that may have been true in the NYTimes story. Of course, now that Broder has ruined his credibility, even that must be called into question (did he leave it running in a parking spot for a few hours with the heater blasting? ... actually there is a spike in the 'cabin temperature' right at that point...). As someone actually interested in electric cars, that's the kind of question I would like a proper answer to. So, it would have been nice for Tesla to address it (beyond just saying that they have lots of sales in frigid countries).
  • by david.emery (127135) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @01:54PM (#42897559)

    This is not the first story that calls into question the NY Times accuracy/impartiality on tech related news stories.

  • I love DATA! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by who_stole_my_kidneys (1956012) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @01:57PM (#42897615)
    Not a day goes by that some one says "I did this" or "I did that" and the end result is "I didn't work". Yet going back to a nice log file in fact shows "you didn't do that" and "you actually did this, causing your issue". I'm not sure when people will learn that you cannot lie about what you did when everything you do is logged, but its awesome to point it out when they flat out do and you have the evidence.
  • by Pumpkin Tuna (1033058) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @01:59PM (#42897665)

    "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."

    Wow. That's pretty damning right there.

  • by Bruce66423 (1678196) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @02:03PM (#42897717)
    There appears to be a reference to his driving at 81mph. Surely that's above the speed limit, so can we look forward to a cop knocking on his door for a fine as well?
  • by NEDHead (1651195) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @02:03PM (#42897723)

    Perhaps Broder would like to test drive --- A ROCKET SHIP!!!

    Maybe he would refrain from screwing around with the fuel tanks; and if not, problem solved.

  • by wiredlogic (135348) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @02:03PM (#42897745)

    The plots show a precipitous drop in charge level around the 400 mile mark that doesn't match the constant discharge slopes elsewhere. The only thing that happened at that time was the temperature increasing from 70F to 75F. It seems odd that at 35% charge the heaters would have that effect when nothing seemed to happen at other times with the temp above 74F.

    • by geoskd (321194) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @03:04PM (#42898969)

      The plots show a precipitous drop in charge level around the 400 mile mark that doesn't match the constant discharge slopes elsewhere. The only thing that happened at that time was the temperature increasing from 70F to 75F. It seems odd that at 35% charge the heaters would have that effect when nothing seemed to happen at other times with the temp above 74F.

      I own an electric car (a Mitsubishi Miev in fact), and the heater sucks down a tremendous amount of power. The dash power draw meter indicates the total draw on the batteries, and in very cold weather, the heater draws as much power as cruising at 30 mph. If you sit in a parking lot for two hours with the heater set to 74 degrees (in 20 degree weather), you will use the same amount of power as driving 60 miles. Takes quite a chunk out of my battery life. It also happens to be a cheap and easy trick for messing with the range estimator on an electric car.

      -=Geoskd

  • Prove it (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jklovanc (1603149) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @02:08PM (#42897849)

    There is a simple way to prove it. Have someone else who is acceptable to both NYT and Tesla motors repeat the trip with the following differences;
    1. Video the whole trip.
    2. Charge to full at each stop.
    Compare the logs from both trips and report the results. Let the readers decide who is telling the truth. How about we have more reporters telling the facts and fewer commentators telling us how to think.

  • by girlinatrainingbra (2738457) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @02:39PM (#42898497)
    The NYTimes writer drove in circles to draw the battery down!!! That pretty much clinches it for me to take Tesla's side. And I believe the NYTimes altered the story slightly between print time and what was on the internet on Tuesday. I'll have to find the print copy again to see what they changed. Here's a quote from Elon Musk's rebuttal statement:
    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.

    Then, on the NYTimes' original response to the controversy (at http://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/12/the-charges-are-flying-over-a-test-of-teslas-charging-network/ [nytimes.com] ) Broder writes:

    I drove more than 100 miles below 55 on cruise control to conserve power.

    Yet the graphic presented by Elon Musk ( http://www.teslamotors.com/sites/default/files/blog_images/speeddistance0.jpg [teslamotors.com] ) of speed vs. distance clearly shows that Broder's statement is false, unless Elon Musk is presenting false data logs. Of course, one possible explanation could be an uncalibrated speedometer, which showed Broder the numbers he wrote in his article. But considering the digital-ness of this fancy-schmancy electric car, I expect that the display is a digital display of speed and that the console speed displayed actually matches the speeds logged and graphed by Musk.
    .
    Now little things lke "I but the climate control to low at 182 miles" when he really did it at 212 miles (approximately eyeballed by me) which would have seemed like picking at details and mistakes takes on a sadder dirtier note of trying to spin the story the way he wanted it to turn out.
    :>(
    How sad for the nytimes if Elon Musk's allegations turn out to be true and Broder lied.

  • Reputation (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Capt.Albatross (1301561) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @02:40PM (#42898513)

    After Musk's initial complaint, the Times doubled-down and defended their report as accurate, and then Musk presented this quantitative evidence. Someone at the Times is going to be very pissed with Mr. Broder if Tesla's data stand up to scrutiny.

  • Broder response (Score:5, Informative)

    by angrytuna (599871) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @02:53PM (#42898767)
    Broder appears to have posted a response. [nytimes.com]
  • by Anubis IV (1279820) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @03:07PM (#42898997)

    I love logs like these, since they let you fact check both sides. They paint a pretty damning picture when you take them with Tesla's notes, but Tesla's notes are rather one sided and skip some obvious facts that they'd rather ignore but which are plain for all to see. Similarly, Broder's account was clearly sensationalized a bit in various parts, though not in all of the ways that Tesla claims. For instance:

    1) The cabin temperature logs Tesla provides have a note saying that Broder turned up the temperature at the 182 mile mark when he claimed he turned it down. If we read the original article, we see that Broder merely mentions having noticed a decreased reported range at the 182 mile mark (114 miles from start + 68 since charge), but he never said he decreased his speed or turned down the heater at that exact time. What we see in the logs is that he did turn up the heater slightly around that time, but very shortly thereafter he turned it down to its lowest setting, exactly as he claimed. If you're looking at the logs, it's easy to spot the deep valleys where he did what he said he did at about the time that he said he did it.

    2) Similarly, if you compare the graphs, you'll see that at about the time he dropped his heating down to its lowest setting, his speed also dropped down to around 54 miles per hour, again, as he claimed. That said, he seemed to imply in the article that he maintained that speed for quite some time. What the logs show is that he only maintained that speed for a short period of time, before resuming his typical driving habits that had him in the mid-60s for his speed. He conveniently neglected to mention how long he maintained that speed, leaving it to the reader to assume that he maintained it until his next stop, which was untrue.

    3) Tesla disputes the time that Broder claims he spent charging at Milford (the Times' picture claimed 58 minutes, Broder's article says "nearly an hour", but Tesla claims 47 minutes). It's possible this was a simple case of misunderstanding, where he was in the service station for 58 minutes (including the rather shady 5 minutes driving around the lot to seemingly try and kill the battery) but actually only spent 47 minutes charging. Either way, there's no dispute that his range read 185 miles when he stopped charging the car before it was done. Tesla suggests that it's his fault for not charging it to full, even though the reported range was 60 miles greater than what was necessary to reach his next stop.

    4) If you look at the logs showing the reported range, you'll see a sudden drop in range of about 50 miles at the 400 mile mark. Broder claimed that the reported range went from 79 miles to 25 miles overnight, which is exactly what the logs show. Tesla doesn't make a point of highlighting that blip in the logs, to say the least. We also see that Broder once again turned his thermostat to an extremely low setting, though the logs do not support his claim that he limped along at 45 miles per hour (though he did slow down quite a bit...maybe he made a typo when meaning to say 54 miles per hour?).

    5) Broder never mentions in the article what the estimated range was after his last stop, instead merely saying that "after an hour they [Tesla] cleared me to resume the trip". Since he says he woke up a Tesla official on the west coats to ask for instructions and this was not his scheduled stop, it's quite possible he got someone half-asleep or unfamiliar with the fact that he had stopped at a non-Supercharger station, meaning that they cleared him after the hour that the Supercharger would have taken, rather than the several hours necessary at the station he was at. Either way, he was definitively not charged enough (which he clearly knew), since both Musk's notes and the Times' own map indicate that he had around 32-35 miles of reported range after he had charged, which was nowhere close to the 51 necessary to reach his destination.

    Long story short, both sides are trying to spin the facts in their favor. As far as I can tell,

  • latest update (Score:5, Informative)

    by zachdms (265636) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @03:55PM (#42899891) Homepage

    There's been mention of the 2/12 response from Broder (previous to Musk's rebuttal), but the first post-rebuttal articles are now showing up:
    * http://publiceditor.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/14/conflicting-assertions-over-an-electric-car-test-drive/?smid=tw-share [nytimes.com]
    Plus a general line by line analysis of Musk's comments:
    * http://www.theatlanticwire.com/technology/2013/02/elon-musks-data-doesnt-back-his-claims-new-york-times-fakery/62149/ [theatlanticwire.com]

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