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Tesla CEO Clashes With New York Times Over Model S Review

February 12, 2013

Tesla Billionaire Musk Rails Over New York Times Model S Review

“NYTimes article about Tesla range in cold is fake,” Musk said in a Twitter post yesterday. “Vehicle logs tell true story that he didn’t actually charge to max & took a long detour.” Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

Elon Musk, the billionaire chief executive officer of Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA:US) said a range test of the Model S electric sedan by the New York Times was “fake” as the reporter didn’t disclose all the details of his drive.

“NYTimes article about Tesla range in cold is fake,” Musk said in a Twitter post yesterday. “Vehicle logs tell true story that he didn’t actually charge to max & took a long detour.”

The Times on Feb. 8 published a story by John M. Broder on its website detailing how the Model S he drove failed to meet the electric sedan’s 300-mile (483-kilometer) range “under ideal conditions” while driving in temperatures as low as 10 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-12 Celsius). The Times also published a blog post by Broder about the test-drive on the same day, detailing his plan to use Tesla’s new “supercharger” stations.

Broder followed instructions he was given in “multiple conversations with Tesla personnel,” Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Times, said in an e-mail message.

The story was “completely factual, describing the trip in detail exactly as it occurred,” Murphy said. “Any suggestion that the account was ‘fake’ is, of course, flatly untrue.”

Musk said in a separate Twitter comment that Palo Alto, California-based Tesla’s test cars for media drives have data loggers to record details of such trips.

Test Errors

Musk, who is Tesla’s biggest shareholder, also said a company blog is being prepared “detailing what actually happened” during Broder’s drive.

Broder made three errors in his test drive, including not fully charging the car, driving into Manhattan during rush hour and driving over the speed limit, Musk said in an interview with Emily Chang on Bloomberg Television.

“You can’t do that, whether it’s a gasoline car or an electric car, and expect to achieve the top range,” Musk said in the interview.

Broder responded to Musk today on the website of the Times. “My account was not a fake,” he wrote. “It happened just the way I described it.”

His detour into Manhattan during the trip “added precisely two miles to the overall distance,” Broder said today.

‘Top Gear’

This isn’t the first time Musk has been critical of a media report about electric vehicle range. The use of data loggers in test cars began after an unflattering review of Tesla’s first model, the Roadster, by the British Broadcasting Corp.’s “Top Gear” show in 2008. Tesla sued the program in 2011, alleging libel and malicious falsehood, saying “Top Gear” faked a scene that appeared to show the Roadster running out of energy.

British courts dismissed the suits in October 2011 and February 2012, according to reports by the Telegraph and Guardian newspapers.

Musk said in the interview he isn’t making a habit of targeting unfavorable reviews.

“If we have been wronged and facts are on our side, I believe in speaking out,” he said. “It is not as if I do this all the time -- several thousand articles have been written and I have only objected to a few of them.”

The company has a data logging system that allows it to monitor a battery’s state of charge, the vehicle’s position and the driving route, Musk said in the interview with Bloomberg. “We’re going to publish the actual logs in the car, and it’s crystal clear,” he said, referring to Broder’s test drive.

The data logging system “is only turned on with explicit written permission from customers, but after Top Gear BS, we always keep it on for media,” Musk said on Twitter yesterday.

Interstate 95

The shares declined (TSLA:US) 1.4 percent to $37.89 at the close in New York. They have risen 22 percent in the past 12 months, compared with a 13 percent gain for the Russell 1000 Index.

The Times’ story and blog post detailed a test-drive on Interstate 95 on the U.S. East Coast. Broder planned to repower the car using rapid charge stations Tesla has installed in Newark, Delaware, and Milford, Connecticut, during his drive. Tesla is installing a network of such stations to eventually fulfill Musk’s goal of making it possible to drive cross-country in a Model S.

During the trip, Broder reported that the car ran out of power and had to be towed on a flatbed truck. Broder didn’t take an “unreported detour” and was never told to plug the car in overnight in cold weather, Murphy of the Times said.

‘Operator Error’

Tesla’s website says the range of the car’s almost 1,000- pound (454-kilogram) lithium-ion battery pack is well below the 300-mile level at highway speeds above 55 miles an hour and when the heating or cooling system is used.

Tesla, which is to release fourth-quarter results Feb. 20, has said it will build at least 20,000 Model S sedans this year at its Fremont, California, factory and add the Model X electric sport-utility vehicle in 2014. Tesla is looking to the Model S to give the company its first profit as early as this year.

“After digging into the background behind the article, our conclusion is that operator error likely played a primary role, due to improper charging protocol,” Elaine Kwei, an analyst for Jefferies & Co., wrote in a report yesterday. She rates Tesla a buy.

The company named for inventor Nikola Tesla counts Daimler AG and Toyota Motor Corp. as both investors and customers for its battery packs and motors. Panasonic Corp., Japan’s largest consumer-electronics maker, is an investor in the carmaker as well as a supplier of lithium-ion cells for the Model S.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alan Ohnsman in Los Angeles at aohnsman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jamie Butters at jbutters@bloomberg.net


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