Tesla's Elon Musk & NY Times: Disturbing Discrepancies On Model S Range Reporting Page 3

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2012 Tesla Model S

2012 Tesla Model S

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Broder's article underscores that point, whether or not it was accurate in the details.

We'd argue that Tesla Motors should perhaps have thought through the implications of doing a DC-to-Boston trip during the coldest months of the year.

It's not that a Model S with the largest 85-kilowatt-hour battery pack can't make it--but it will have to recharge more frequently when temperatures are colder.

Broder says Musk told him in a phone call that "the East Coast charging stations should be 140 miles apart, not 200 miles" to account for "traffic and temperature extremes in this part of the country." Musk confirmed that Monday in another tweet.

Reduced winter range is a useful piece of knowledge that every buyer of a plug-in car should know, just as hybrid buyers have learned that their gas mileage falls in the winter because their cars run less frequently on battery power.

Tips to extend winter range in electric cars will become common, but the facts of physics dictate that plug-in electric cars will perform better in temperate California cities than in icy Alaska.

Luckily, California is projected to buy more plug-in cars than the next five states combined.

'Dismal' state of electric cars?

Suspicion of Broder's motives has been quite evident in discussions among electric-car advocates, based on his only other published Times piece that addressed electric cars.

2012 Tesla Model S

2012 Tesla Model S

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The March 2012 news analysis was titled, The Electric Car, Unplugged, and included such claims as this: "The state of the electric car is dismal, the victim of hyped expectations, technological flops, high costs and a hostile political climate."

In our view, Broder is right that plug-in electric cars were severely overhyped--and that a portion of the political spectrum used them as a tool to attack its opposition.

But for a reporter who covers energy and the environment, the piece last year betrays a rather serious lack of awareness of how the auto industry works, the many technological approaches that it will take to meet increasingly stiff emissions requirements, and how new auto technologies roll out to consumers over many years.

Tesla Motors apparently did not know of Broder's prior piece.

"We did not think to read his past articles and were unaware of his outright disdain for electric cars," Musk wrote on the Tesla Motors site.

"We were played for a fool and as a result, let down the cause of electric vehicles. For that, I am deeply sorry."

Sales will grow, slowly

Plug-in electric cars will remain a small but growing portion of total production (nearing 100 million vehicles a year globally) for the next decade.

But sales will increase--in the U.S., last year they tripled the previous year's level--and consumers will gradually come to understand where electric cars are most appropriate (daily errands, predictable commutes, short-distance trips) and where they're not (driving across the country).

Tesla won't grow to the size of Toyota or General Motors or Volkswagen any time soon, but it doesn't need to.

2012 Nissan Leaf winter test

2012 Nissan Leaf winter test

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And within two decades, consumers will understand that driving electric cars is a better experience than exploding air mixed with refined dead dinosaurs in increasingly complex engines.

But that all takes time.

The future has arrived

And coverage like Broder's trip report actually helps that process, even if some advocates perceive it in the short run as overly critical or biased.

After all, just 15 years ago in 1998, with the EV1 launching in California, the notion of an all-electric five-passenger luxury sport sedan that could even attempt a DC-to-Boston trip using a network of DC quick-charging stations would have been science fiction.

In other words, bits of the future are starting to reveal themselves despite hiccups along the way.

Now can't we all just get along?


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