The fracas between the New York Times and Tesla continues on—John Broder, the author of the Tesla takedown, is expected to weigh in on the controversy for the third time later today. Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO, meanwhile, is content that his data—which actually seems to come up a bit short—disproves Broder’s account. But in the background, like a little kid jumping up and down trying to get his parent’s attention, is this: CNN just did the exact same drive that Broder did with the exact same car model, and it went off without a hitch.
It’s worth remembering that Consumer Reports had already driven the car on the same route, too—and that they encounter no problems either, and gave the car the most glowing review possible.
So the question is, why was Broder’s trip such an epic failure, when everyone else seems to have no trouble navigating the East Coast highway system with an electric car?
Well, the conditions were a different, for starters. As the CNN report points out: “There were some differences with my ride and the one from the New York Times. The weather for mine was about 10 degrees warmer. And I did mine in one day; the reviewer from the Times split it into two.” Another part of the answer is likely that Broder entered the ring with a publicly stated bias against electric cars—and as such carried with him an incentive to have a negative experience
The question Tesla has to address now is whether a 10 degree drop is enough to make the battery charge dissipate fast enough to mean the difference between CNN’s trip and Broder’s. Even electric car-advocating outlets have called on Tesla to better outline the impact of severely cold weather on its batteries. This is a real concern, and Tesla shouldn't back away from it. As for the overnight issue—temps dropped close to freezing overnight, and voided the battery—Tesla policy states that its cars should be plugged in overnight in such conditions. The company should be clear on the precise result of not doing so.
It’s hard to know, really, what to make of this mess. Tesla’s data dump has far from satisfactorily proved that Broder’s trip was a sham, and it’s understandably vehement advocacy forces us to take its statements with a grain of salt. Meanwhile, Broder is on the record of being sour on not just electric cars, but the cleantech industry in general, and it’s hard not to imagine his ideology colored or even motivated his takedown.
The one thing we do know for sure is that the Tesla Model S is fully capable of making long-distance road trips if it’s not freezing out—and, we’ll have to wait for more data, maybe even then.