Note to self: do not trust reviews in the NY Times

Tesla-Model-S

John Broder of the NY Times recently reviewed the Tesla Model S electric car, and panned it. Now I know nothing at all about this car; I’m not endorsing or criticizing it myself, and I’m not going to be able to tell you anything about the specs on this vehicle or how well or how poorly it delivers on its promises. But I can tell when someone is actively lying in a review, when evidence is provided.

The Tesla company had a device installed in the reviewed vehicle to automatically log just about everything the driver did. And the reviewer lied about what he did. It’s an appalling example of outright faking his observations — a scientific publication with that degree of fudging the data to achieve a desired conclusion would get you fired.

But now I’m wondering why — why would somebody cheat on his evaluation of a car? Personal bias? Or — uh-oh, conspiracy theory time — were there financial interests behind doing a bad review?


And now…the counterargument.

Comments

  1. sqlrob says

    I’m glad to see that he was called out, but it bothers me that he could be called out.

    Does a car need to log all that? I see way too much chance for abuse of that information.

  2. rowanvt says

    @sqlrob- As stated in the article… they did it because of shows like Top Gear implying factually untrue things about the car. So they specifically log *media* drives of the car. If you or I bought one, this sort of thing would not be in the car.

  3. unbound says

    I’m not one to trust any corporation, but the evidence is pretty damning. I guess the NY Times reporting was working on a way to scoop everyone else…even if he decided to fake it.

  4. sqlrob says

    @rowanvt:

    Which means media drives have a different version of the software and potentially different performance because of it.

    Plus, demonstrate that it’s different software on the release version. I have trouble believing that they’d take it out, not the least because law enforcement would like them to keep it there.

  5. unbound says

    @sqlrob – Different performance for media reviewed versions of products has always been the rule. That is why Consumer Reports buys their products off the shelf. There is nothing unique about the Tesla car in that respect.

    I would agree that the logging software will probably remain intact as well. That has been something that insurance companies (more so than law enforcement) have been pushing for for a long time now.

  6. Michael Zeora says

    Well… I can’t say I’m surprised there are a few good corporations (Costco comes to mind) Anything with a computer has logs somewhere anything with an Internet connect can *in theory* be looked in on my those with access.

    What surprises me is the Tesla review was pro-Tesla and Tesla comes out to say the number we’re incorrect. This although a scary in a broader idea feels good to see a company taking their image serious enough to even disown a good review due to lies.

    Also remember this is an Elon Musk company the same man behind Dragon and Space X. He takes his image and technology seriously.

  7. Anthony K says

    Does a car need to log all that? I see way too much chance for abuse of that information.

    February 13, 2013
    10:04: Driver picks his nose.
    10:06: Driver cycles through radio stations while attempting a left turn into heavy traffic.
    10:07: Driver sings along to “Come On Eileen”, fails to hit any of the high notes. Neglects to signal a lane change.
    10:10: Driver picks his nose again. Wipes finger on the underside of driver’s seat.

  8. Owlglass says

    I find it strange that some apparently pick on the company for logging what is being done with their company car. It isn’t unusual to have test gear record all sort of stuff, even without the added reason of being mispresented in the past.

  9. eric says

    I can understand the driving-in-circles behavior, if your goal is to see how close to the zero point the car will actually run out of juice. That is good information for consumers to know, sort of like how many miles you can go after a regular car’s “need gas” like comes on.

    But the lying about it does indeed baffle me.

  10. says

    @sqlrob:

    It doesn’t necessarily mean that the car has a different version of the software. A lot of cars already have event data recorders for accident reconstruction. My Prius logs many other things for each drive – speed, gas consumption, amount of magnetic and frictional braking, the route I’ve driven since I turned on the GPS and map application, and so on; in part so that it can plot up gas mileage and estimated remaining drive range. The question is what gets done with the data.

    If the Tesla engineers did their jobs correctly, all they are doing differently for media test drives is copying out the data that the car’s computer is already recording. For a normal user, the data would sit in the car’s memory until it was over-written by new data. There isn’t much of an additional privacy concern as long as there isn’t a way to offload the data from the car (hack in via the Bluetooth phone setup, maybe?) that is easier than breaking into the car and physically ripping out the memory chips.

  11. Shin says

    Owlglass wrote:

    I find it strange that some apparently pick on the company for logging what is being done with their company car. It isn’t unusual to have test gear record all sort of stuff, even without the added reason of being mispresented in the past.

    This, exactly this. This is how technology is made. It is tested, information is gathered, it is tweaked, information is gathered again, on and on. This process shouldn’t be unusual to the people here. They take out most of these debug measures once in production (or just disable them so that they can be re-enabled if warranty or support is needed). The article explicitly states why these measures were enabled in the media vehicle, and I’m glad they were.

  12. rgmani says

    @michaelbusch

    The Tesla Model S has built-in 3G connectivity – so it is always on the internet. So – in theory, Tesla does not have to get access to the car to pull the logs. I don’t know if that is the way it actually works, though. Also – as per Elon Musk’s blog post, all cars have this logging software but for cars bought by customers, it is turned on only if the customer gives explicit permission. For cars loaned to the press however, the logging is always on.

    – RM

  13. says

    @rgmani:

    Okay then. As long as the customer-turn-off switch is such that it can’t be bypassed remotely, that’s probably good enough (Although you’d want to leave the locator circuit with a remote-activated switch. That’s just Lojack).

  14. dobbshead says

    There isn’t much of an additional privacy concern as long as there isn’t a way to offload the data from the car (hack in via the Bluetooth phone setup, maybe?) that is easier than breaking into the car and physically ripping out the memory chips.

    Until you get served with a subpoena or warrant. If the data exists, the courts can order it presented.

  15. rdmcpeek43 says

    To see a review of a 2012 Tesla Model S, go to Jay Leno’s web
    site, JAY LENO’S GARAGE, and type in Tesla.

  16. says

    @dobbshead:

    Yes. But the court would have to present adequate cause for ordering the data to be provided, just like everything else. As long as it is not easy to abuse, I have trouble seeing better documentation as a bad thing.

  17. trina says

    I found the counterargument unconvincing- yes, some at some points conclusions were jumped too (i.e the driving around in circles argument is probably just paranoia) but the review was not honest and the driver did not follow the conditions of the test so his viewpoint is meaningless.

  18. unclefrogy says

    here is a comment I received from a news service I read called IP news service one of a few on this story

    “John Broder (of the NY Times) appears to have an axe to grind with Tesla’s “Supercharger network.” Tesla owners get to use not only the existing infrastructure of charging locations, but have additional opportunities to charge up ten times faster (for free!), courtesy of Tesla.

    Every electric car owner knows enough to fully charge his vehicle overnight before embarking on a lengthy trip. And that there are over 10,000 places with compatible J1772 chargers available through http://www.chargepont.com/, which you can call up on the console web browser of the Tesla Model S. Any one of which will give you an extra 31 miles of range in one hour. Making a “run” from one supercharger location to another, 200 miles away (and detouring for an unspecified number of extra miles on a detour through Manhattan), not driving the car in conditions resembling those used to generate the 2 cycle EPA range number can only end in disaster, as the writer proved.

    I’ve seen many conventional fuel vehicles out of gas on the side of the road too, due to foolhardy and incautious drivers. To its credit, the Model S provides a plethora of information which attempts to forecast remaining range based on driving conditions (temperature, hills, brake usage vs. regeneration) based on actual energy consumption over the most recent 5, 15 or 30 miles of driving. Only a fool or someone out to prove a point would end up with a dead battery as Broder reported.
    by Harry Saal”

    there was another message discussing what a standard car might be which turns out to exist it depends on what driving you are doing.
    yes a biased review a set up from the start am I surprised not really.
    I think that much of ‘mainstream news” has become the equivalent of fashion news. They are very much like fashion magazines and the fashion press really much closer to advertising than honest information.
    What ever hype they can use to get eyeballs to sell to the advertisers
    uncle frogy

  19. says

    My understanding is that this is the reviewer’s first car review. All this other articles have been about the oil industry.

    Mystery solved.

  20. eric says

    Like trina @20, I think the counterargument is weak. It consists of pointing out that the reviewer had innocent explanations for what happened, but which he didn’t explain in the review. Like: he didn’t charge up fully because he wanted to act like a regular driver might, and not stop for the full charge time. Okay, maybe I buy that – but you’re a frakking car reviewer. Its your job to put important information like that in your review. If you’re going to claim the car is a lemon, telling people your test included a time limit on how long you wanted to spend charging up is really, really critical.

    So, is he an outright, conscious liar? Maybe not. Is his review trustworthy? No, not at all. The information he left out appears to be critical to the results he reports.

  21. says

    Well, Tesla stock seems to be mostly trading higher, this month, so the NYT is not going to have to deal with the potential fallout from posting a defamatory review of a publicly-traded company. If Tesla stock had gone in the toilet after that review, this would be a much deeper and stinkier bucket of poop for NYT to have to swallow.

  22. says

    The data logging is to help the service department troubleshoot any problems the car is having when the driver brings it in. Tesla monitors a large number of data points because the car and the battery both are very complex. These data points help point out when it’s a car issue, a battery issue, or an operator issue.

    Disclosure: I interviewed and almost got a job in the Tesla service dept in Palo Alto, CA. I was only beat out because I didn’t have any national mechanic certifications on top of my BSEE/BSCoE. I had to sign a non disclosure agreement because part of my job interview was examining some of those logs and making a diagnosis.

  23. Lofty says

    All Hail the Stinky Breath of Our Lord and Saviour, the mighty High Octane!
    In other news, the price of oil is expected to drop with the ramping up of unconventional oil supplies. Yes, the biosphere is due for another rude shock, soon.

  24. kevinv says

    Full disclosure: I own stock in Tesla.

    I think Elon Musk blew some nitpicks up in size significantly, but also had some good points as well. Also it seems (on his own article) that he basically wanted NYT to write a fluff piece and is throwing a tantrum because they didn’t.

    The NYT really seems to have gone into the review with a mission in mind of showing electric cars are a poor choice for anyone living in the Northeast (or cold climates.) Why did he continually harp on being worried about range but never let the car recharge fully? Even his own article he talks about cutting recharges short.

    So I’m blowing raspberries at both.

    Here’s what I’d want to know in the review:
    1) how long, including full recharge times, does it take to drive 529 miles. Since I’m not an idiot, i’ll fully recharge the car on a trip, just like I get a full tank of gas on long drives. How much time does this add to my trip in an electric.

    2) Is the range indicator accurate? Were you actually able to go the stated range? The article at one point does say he had an indicator of 30 miles or so and was able to drive 50.

    3) Did you have to turn down the heat in the car to get stated range, or did you only have to turn down heat because you were too dumb to fully recharge the car?

    4) hard to test in winter, but how much does running A/C reduce range?

    The fact that you can, by not recharging the car fully, eventually run it down is not important, it’s freaking obvious. But did you have sufficient and timely warnings from the car when this was going to happen? Were there enough chargers around to deal with the issue (the article would indicate not, but without a full charge at start that could just be a side-effect of needing more charges than real users would.)

    There are plenty of legitimate questions about electric cars. Answers those. Do real world tests, not intentionally stupid ones.

  25. kevinv says

    Tesla is not the only company with black boxes in cars that track a great many things. I’m not sure if they upped the amount of tracking for the media loaner (I suspect they may have added GPS, but they haven’t said so.)

    If you’re concerned about this, the National Traffic Safety Administration is getting ready to require them in all cars. Privacy groups are arguing for some restrictions (i.e. retention time, who has access, etc…)

    More details in this Marketplace Tech Report from a few days ago:
    http://ssl.marketplace.org/topics/tech/putting-black-box-every-new-car

  26. robro says

    @Shin wrote:

    They take out most of these debug measures once in production (or just disable them so that they can be re-enabled if warranty or support is needed).

    Do they take out most of them? I’m not sure about that. In the computer business, it’s fairly standard practice now to record a plethora of logs and periodically send them to the developer, say after a crash or just once in a while. Usually you will be asked, once, if this is OK. The wording for these messages is carefully honed to be “transparent” to you, the customer. “Transparent” is a legal term meaning opaque.

    Once you turn it on, it might be possible to turn it off, but not necessarily easy to find how to do that. The information might have been in the message you agreed to, oh, three or two years ago. Or, perhaps it’s in the help, if you can find it there (but who looks in help). You can probably find instructions on the Internet if you really care.

    That said, I don’t personally care. Let’m have it.

  27. Rip Steakface says

    So long as there’s a clause stating that any data gathered cannot be turned over to law enforcement in any manner, I’m okay with the black boxes.

  28. says

    I was curious about Broder’s past reporting and decided to take advantage of having a Times subscription to see what I could find out. Using the sites search function turned up a list of everything with his byline in chronological order–I’m not sure the link will work for someone without a subscription. Broder is one of the authors of the Times’ “Green” blog. Most of what he does looks pretty boringly “neutral.” The most recent work of his I note with a distinct point of view is a January 13 blog post entitled “Reports on Oil Sands Paint a Dire Picture”. I think that the assumption that he is pro-oil company is unsupported. He has written other things suggesting electric car skepticism, though.

  29. says

    @Rip Steakface :

    That makes no sense.

    Recorders are used to reconstruct accidents, both for law enforcement and insurance purposes. Both law enforcement and insurance companies have to provide a sufficiently-good reason to access the records and there can and should be arguments about what counts as sufficiently good.

  30. danarra says

    Noticed something – the PlugShare map of available stations doesn’t match the trip map. Took a look at the PlugShare map of charging stations available along the actual route – not very many.

    Anyway, this seems like one of those things where the truth falls somewhere in-between. Was the reviewer prejudiced against electric cars? Possibly. Does that data shown by the Tesla people completely make their case? Not really. Undercharging does appear to have happened. Beyond that, the graphs either don’t match or show that the reviewer has a bad sense of when things actually occurred.

    I’d still like to try an electric car. Maybe even this one.

  31. evilDoug says

    Miscellaneous points:
    A vehicle like this will doubtless have a large number of computers, so any notion of logging code being detrimental to normal operation is likely unfounded. Data “suitable for logging” is probably constantly being spewed to a connector somewhere – same as it is on most cars. The battery alone conceivably could use a processor per cell. I’ve seen window crank motors with dedicated processors.
    Battery capacity gauging is difficult. It can be influenced significantly by temperature, rate of charge, rate of discharge and cell aging. Batteries self-discharge in ways that can’t be measure directly with any accuracy and must be modeled. Errors tend to be cumulative. For example, if charge efficiency (energy out during discharge divided by energy in during charge) is slightly over-estimated, the system can report the available capacity is higher than it actually is. Lots of gauging systems rely on occasional full discharge – full charge – full discharge events to “recalibrate”. Full discharge in a car is generally cause for rude words. Very extensive data logging helps to build models that are more accurate. Of course gas gauges in cars are also notoriously inaccurate.
    If you are concerned with privacy issues, get rid of all of your portable electronic devices that communicate with pretty much anything else. There have been all sorts of issues with telecom companies using cell phones as tracking devices and releasing info to police without regard for actual law (telcos usually charge quite a lot for retrieving the data, so there is money to made). There are now road signs that tell you how long it will take you to get from where you are to where you are headed. This is done by detecting unique Bluetooth addresses of devices as they travel along a road and doing some arithmetic. The signs don’t know who you are just from that, but the same basic tech could be used for tracking specific persons.
    I’m a bit surprised the Tesla people didn’t show GPS tracking logs in the linked article (or perhaps didn’t want to admit they had them). When I get home from riding my bicycle, I can pinpoint within a couple of metres where I was pretty much every second. Going round in circles in a parking lot is easy to document. If the car had stopped, been loaded on a truck and moved, they would have known exactly when and where.

  32. evilDoug says

    Anyone interested in high performance electric vehicles should have a look at the KillaCycle – lots of stuff on the web. (I used to do projects with a guy who knew Bill Dubé.)

  33. SidBB says

    @ timdiaz (#22)

    My understanding is that this is the reviewer’s first car review. All this other articles have been about the oil industry. Mystery solved.

    A follow-up article made it clear that it was not supposed to be a car review. He was testing Tesla’s “Supercharger” network to see if it was feasible to make these long trips using these specially designated charging stations. Given the fact that the subject of the article was the company’s logistics of delivering power to enable wider use of these cars, it doesn’t seem too unusual to me that an energy reporter would be tasked with writing about it and not an automotive expert.

  34. says

    Doing a bit more poking through Times archives, I find that Broder has himself been willing to give voice to the idea that “someone” is out to kill the electric care again. In a Sunday Review article dated March 24, 2012, Broder said this:

    The fate of the electric car remains hazy, with technical, economic and political forces working both for and against it. Chris Paine, who made the 2006 documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car?” *** said he was alarmed at how quickly the political climate had turned against the Chevy Volt and other electric vehicles, and offered a theory as to why.
    The attacks leave me a bit stunned,” he said in an e-mail message. He said the Volt had been more successful in the marketplace than the early Prius was and that today, unlike in the late 1990s, the government and the auto industry are fully behind electric vehicle programs.
    But one possible culprit still stands to gain if the electric car is killed yet again, Mr. Paine suggested.
    “Not too hard to guess,” he said. “With Americans paying $250 a month to fill up on gasoline when electricity can do the job in a Volt for $50 a month, why are we being told electric cars are failures? Who could possibly be behind this?”

    I’m now more persuaded that this is not someone with a pro-oil or anti-electric-car bias.

  35. unklesam says

    As evilDoug @35 points out, there are enough ways one’s movements and and habits can be (and are being) tracked nowadays, that I don’t thing it’s particularly worth sounding the alarm about car makers or insurance companies logging one’s driving data. I don’t love the Big Brother aspect, but neither am I losing sleep. Not only is it a something of a drop in the bucket that way, your insurance company knowing how your drive (and charging you accordingly, good and bad) is arguably a more useful form of tracking than Raytheon keeping tabs on your EXIF data for the benefit of whomever, or whatever that kerfuffle was about last week. Knowing that little transponder is there and being able to view the data online has helped me to become more aware of how I drive and has encouraged me to develop safer driving habits. That it’s also knocked a few bucks off my premium hasn’t hurt, either. It seems to me that a more widespread roll-out of this type of program, whether it’s to develop insurance models or improve the performance of complex systems within the vehicle, would benefit all parties.

  36. gridironmonger says

    I read all 3 articles/posts quickly, so maybe I’ve missed some important points, but it does seem that the data files do not completely square with Broder’s narrative. That is not something to just shrug off — if he wants to deviate from reality, he should write a novel or a screenplay or a political speech.

    Tesla may have been aggressive and nitpicky about the discrepancies between the narrative and the data files, but the burden is on Broder to explain the discrepancies. The counter-argument article tries to put the burden of proof on Tesla to prove mendacity…. but really it is on Broder to explain his claims in his article using the data now available to us all.

  37. Ichthyic says

    I read Broder’s previous article on electric cars, cited by Elon in his critique.

    all one needs to know is that Broder takes the opinion of Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck wrt to electric cars seriously.

    you can essentially ignore anything he has to say after that, and Elon should have known better than to think that someone like Broder would have given his car a fair shake.

  38. unclefrogy says

    here is another “review” of the times article

    A few things someone should point out about this NY Times article:

    A) Running out of energy? How stupid can a driver be to run out of
    gas? While it’s true I’ve done it, it’s a frequent, common mistake of
    motorists since the invention of the automobile, it’s not the car’s
    fault if the driver can’t bother to pay attention to the fuel gauge.

    B) Not charging it to it’s full capacity? Duh! Should I expect a new
    Charger to reach SF from LA if I don’t bother to fill up the tank? No,
    of course not!

    C) “The electric vehicle is not a viable replacement for most
    conventional cars?” Please define “conventional car.”

    If you mean a small vehicle you’d use to deliver mail, groceries or
    furniture to various parts of a small city, then EVs have been viable
    transports for over a hundred years (since before Gas-powered cars
    were the norm, actually).

    If you mean that a car should carry you (and maybe a couple of
    co-workers) to work and back home (assuming a modest commute), then
    EVs have been viable replacements for gas cars for several decades.

    If you mean that a car should carry you four hundred miles, refuel in
    five minutes, and go another four hundred miles, continuing for whole
    days, then you should seriously consider what type of vehicle you
    want. There are many gas-powered cars that won’t put up with that on a
    regular basis (granted most of those are older than I am), or that
    just aren’t tolerable after periods of that kind of usage. I’ve been
    on many road trips, I know this first hand.

    Let me make a comparison:

    I’ll buy a new Chevy Suburban and take it out to the local race track.
    Should I expect it to beat the Corvette I’ve seen there before in a
    race? No. Should I get a new Corvette, take it on a cross-country
    trip, and expect to fit my family, the dog, and fourteen cubic
    buttloads of luggage in the back? Would you?

    Specific cars are designed for specific things. Believe it or not,
    there is no ‘everything’ car. Some cars come close (my hat’s off to
    companies like Subaru that make that work), but there is no
    ‘everything’ car. What people looking for a new car need to realize is
    that every car has its strengths and it’s weaknesses. You can’t get a
    car designed for one thing, and use it for something completely
    different. What we need to do is to take a look back our ‘drawing
    boards’ and really consider what we need out of a car. Then, we get a
    car designed specifically for that.

    For instance:

    If you need a car to go less than 100 miles every day (which most
    Americans do), and you need to carry a small carpool, a few laptops,
    some groceries, etc. then an electric vehicle could work well for you.

    If you regularly drive cross-country (or to and from nearby
    metropolises), you expect the car to go for a week without being
    refueled, and you need to carry a half a ton of cargo on a regular
    basis, you may not want one.

    Something else to consider is that most house-holds in the US have
    multiple cars anyway. Is it really too hard to picture replacing your
    commute-to-work car with an EV, while leaving the highway-road-trip
    car (that you own anyway) in the driveway next to it for long trips?
    I’m not saying that’s something we should all do, but it’s definitely
    a thought that writers like this John M. Broder are completely
    ignoring.

    It’s shoddy reporting like this that gives many good things a bad
    name, bad things a good name, and lead the public to do stupid things
    that hurt us all, just because the reporter didn’t bother to learn the
    purpose of the product he chose to misuse.

    Respectfully yours,

    Mark Richter
    Expert Software Developer”

    uncle frogy

  39. Ichthyic says

    I’m now more persuaded that this is not someone with a pro-oil or anti-electric-car bias.

    read the beginning of that same article AGAIN.

    note how Broder takes the opinions of Beck and Limbaugh as worth commentary on this issue.

    my conclusion is you’re seeing what you want to see, and not how biased this guy really is.

  40. Ichthyic says

    again… from that same article:

    The $41,000 Volt, in particular, has become a target of conservatives. Glenn Beck called the Volt “crappy.” Rush Limbaugh accused General Motors of “trying to kill its customers” by selling an unsafe car. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said while campaigning for president in Georgia last month that the Volt was too small to handle a gun rack (a claim proved wrong repeatedly on YouTube).

    Only morons with paid agendas consider what these mouthpieces have to say of any merit.

    sorry, but no, Broder is entirely biased, and is just trying to cover that in his “defense”.

  41. Ichthyic says

    The reporter’s account is a lot more believable to me than Musk.

    data doesn’t lie.

    the facts are clear: the car clearly warned Broder that it had insufficient charge to complete his planned trip, and instead of charging it sufficiently, he did not, and STILL it went further than expected.

    you fail.

  42. Menyambal --- son of a son of a bachelor says

    Heh. My grandfather patented one of the first data-loggers for trucks, back when that meant a weighted pencil on a clock-worked roll of paper.

    Offhand, I’d trust Elon Musk. I’d distrust a Glen Beck fan.

    And, as has been said, electric cars do what they do, and are getting even better. Anybody who is slagging electrics because they can’t do everything has some issues—possibly the kind of issues that lead to Ford=versus-Chevy arguments, possibly the kind of issues that lead to buying large, powerful cars.

  43. Ichthyic says

    Offhand, I’d trust Elon Musk. I’d distrust a Glen Beck fan.

    true, but to clarify what I said earlier, I’m not even claiming that Broder is a fan, just someone who even takes what they say seriously is enough for me to dismiss his opinion on the subject.

  44. richcon says

    I’m a fan of Tesla and the electric car, but Elon is completely off the reservation here. His piece is paranoid and full of accusations and assertions, but the data doesn’t actually back it up. Broder’s counter piece addressed all of Elon’s accusations very thoroughly; he was following instructions and the stated goals of the test by not stopping to fill up at non-Tesla chargers and by only giving it an hour at the one non-Tesla charger he was forced to use. As for not plugging it in overnight, it had a nearly full charge and not far to go the next day, so he didn’t realize that you still needed to. The chart claiming he didn’t drop the temperature? It shows a huge drop in temperature, then the temperature bounces up and down at very reasonable but somewhat chilly levels. Surely not the act of someone trying to kill the battery.

    The only chart Elon came up with that seems to counter any of Broder’s claims was the speed chart showing it didn’t stick to 54mph for any length of time, but that’s of course dependent on the accuracy of that data and of the cruise control. (Broder says the tires were the wrong size.

    The fix was in and he’s a Big Oil shill… because he once wrote a piece somewhat skeptical of whether electric cars were the answer to how to get off of Big Oil? That’s the best they can come up with for a supposed industry shill?

    And then there’s the claim that he drove in circles trying to kill the battery, but then finally realized it’s impossible to kill the battery so… he finally found the (poorly marked) supercharger in the parking lot he was driving around and plugged in. Nonsensical, paranoid, and frankly crazy.

    I expected that some people would get tripped up by the fact that you need to think and plan differently when driving an electric car. I also expected that the supercharger spots might not be close enough together for casual use, but that Tesla would improve this over time. I expected there would be issues in the first generation of the car that their engineers would work tirelessly to correct. I did not expect them to respond to this with blanket denial, accusations of sabotage, and a rapid character assassination piece of a New York Times environmental journalist that would make the Church of Scientology proud.

    I even less expected people at this site to fall for it.

  45. chrislawson says

    Isn’t it amazing that so many commenters I’ve never seen before suddenly pop up to defend a journalist who clearly lied about his experience with an electric car?

  46. drxym says

    The Model S looks like a gorgeous car and perhaps if I had a small fortune I might wish to buy one. I think however for mere mortals it is too damned expensive. Expensive by its own right and expensive compared to similar petrol vehicles. Doubtless this is due to the enormous weight of batteries it must pack in to get the range but it’s a serious hurdle to adoption. Even if the charging stations are free for the time being, you’d have to be doing a serious amount of distance to claw back the difference.

    I think in the medium term that hybrids make more sense. Not the clumsy combustion engine ones we have no, but turbines which generate electricity. Stick in enough batteries to give a 30-50 mile range and then use the turbine to provide juice directly to the electric motor, or to charge the batteries or some split as conditions allow. Less batteries and weight makes the vehicle cheaper and therefore attractive and the range would be comparable to a normal vehicle. The fuel would be an open question but I’m sure turbines could be made that accepted petrol and ethanol allowing a transition away from one to the other.

  47. bradleybetts says

    I read the Tesla article and there’s a quote from one of Broder’s previous articles.

    “Yet the state of the electric car is dismal, the victim of hyped expectations, technological flops, high costs and a hostile political climate.”

    Apparently he has a history of being hostile to electric cars and “green” measures in general. Clearly just a global warming denialist douchebag trying to give the Tesla a bad review in order to fulfill his own agenda. he drove it round in circles in a car park for five minutes to try and run the battery down, the dishonest douche! Journalistic integrity? He deserves to be fired for printing such deliberate lies.

    I quite like Tesla. At the moment I would never buy an electric car because the ones I could afford are unreliable and slow. I do my bit for the planet, but I like driving and I would never buy one. But Tesla are making leaps and bounds in making electric cars faster and more fun, and one day the technology they are using will be more affordable… and when that happens, I’ll buy one. But in order for that to happen they need to be able to make their technological advances without dishonest, biased douchebags lying about their products.

  48. Ichthyic says

    I expected that some people would get tripped up by the fact that you need to think and plan differently when driving an electric car.

    bullshit.

    I expect a professional reviewer to know better.

  49. mwitthoft says

    Drxym wrote:

    Stick in enough batteries to give a 30-50 mile range and then use the turbine to provide juice directly to the electric motor

    It’s called a “Chevy Volt”

  50. mwitthoft says

    Bradleybetts wrote

    the ones [EVs] I could afford are unreliable and slow

    What on earth are you talking about?

  51. bradleybetts says

    @mwitthoft

    …I thought that sentence was fairly clear. I’m 22 and earn £18,000 a year. I currently drive a 1.4 Peugeot 206 from 2002 and I were to buy a new car none of the electric cars in the price range I could afford would come close to matching petrol cars in the same price range. Therefore I would buy a petrol one, and will continue to do so until I can afford an electric car that’s a bit of fun or the technology improves/becomes cheaper so that I can afford one with comparable performance to a petrol car in the same price range.

  52. eric says

    uncle frogy @43:

    Specific cars are designed for specific things. Believe it or not, there is no ‘everything’ car.

    True, but most consumers do not have the luxury of keeping three cars in their garage to meet three different purposes. Certainly not three cars that retail for between $50,000-80,000 each. What most consumers need is single vehicle that can do all three of the functions you mention. It doesn’t have to do all three well, but it must be able to do them. For a typical family, the family car does have to be able to make the long trip to grandma’s house, even if you only go there twice a year. The (current generation) electric car is only going to have a niche market among the rich and /or environmentally dedicated until such time that it can reasonably accomplish the grocery run, the commute, and the bi-annual cross-counry trip to grandma’s.
    Having said all that, I’m definitely pulling for it. I look forward to the day I can buy one. But I won’t until it functionally replaces what my current gas guzzler can do. Not two out of three of the things it can do, all of them.

  53. Fleegman says

    Ichthyic,

    You clearly have a passionate desire for the reporter to be the bad guy in this case, and I completely understand, but I’m just going to ask you to look at the data. Take a look at the data between the 200 and 300 mile mark, notably the remaining charge and the cabin temperature.

    Echoing what Richcon said, can you explain why the reporter would reduce the temperature in the cabin so significantly if he were trying to run down the battery as quickly as possible?

    Does it not strongly suggests an attempt to get as much out of the battery as possible? How does that tally with your assessment of his motivations?

    Look, I really wanted to be in the “hahahahaha, lying reporter scum” camp, but when I saw that data I couldn’t ignore what it clearly showed. If you haven’t yet, I recommend reading the rebuttal. The reporter’s account reads as more reliable, in my opinion.

  54. bradleybetts says

    @eric #57

    Having said all that, I’m definitely pulling for it. I look forward to the day I can buy one. But I won’t until it functionally replaces what my current gas guzzler can do. Not two out of three of the things it can do, all of them.

    ^ This.

  55. mwitthoft says

    @bradleybetts

    the ones [EVs] I could afford are unreliable and slow

    I thought that sentence was fairly clear. …none of the electric cars …I could afford would come close to matching petrol cars in the same price range. Therefore I would buy a petrol one… until I can afford an electric car that’s a bit of fun…

    Your second attempt is fairly clear.
    Your first is just wrong.
    (a) they’re not unreliable,
    (b) the cheapest one cruises comfortably at 75mph.

  56. rr says

    I’d say it breaks down this way:

    - amount of NYT advertising revenue from Tesla: not much
    - amount of NYT advertising revenue from oil companies, car companies, and related regional vendors: a metric shit-ton
    - amount of post-Judith Miller NYT credibility: not much

    At this point if the NYT says it’s going to be sunny tomorrow I make sure I have an umbrella.

  57. bradleybetts says

    @mwitthoft

    Your second attempt is fairly clear.
    Your first is just wrong.
    (a) they’re not unreliable,
    (b) the cheapest one cruises comfortably at 75mph

    Ah, my apologies, I thought it was clear. My bad :) Though you’ve made me realise my choice of the word unreliable was also a poor one.

    I mean unreliable in the sense that they don’t have the range of conventional cars and, at least here in Britain, you’re hard pushed to find a charging point. Add to that the fact they take an age to charge compared to the five minutes it takes to fill up. In other words, you cannot set out on a lengthy journey with absolute confidence that you’ll actually make it to your destination.

    Sorry, my original was fairly poorly worded now you mention it :-/

    Like I said, I’d love a greener option, providing it has the utility and fun factor of a petrol car. I think Hydrogen cells are our best option on that front, but development seems to have stalled. From what I understand they’re having trouble designing a fuel tank. What with hydrogen being the smallest atom, no material can hold it for any length of time; they all leak. Which obviously is somewhat of a problem, particularly with such a flammable substance as hydrogen.

  58. illdoittomorrow says

    drxym, @ 51:

    “I think in the medium term that hybrids make more sense. Not the clumsy combustion engine ones we have no, but turbines which generate electricity.”

    IIRC, gas turbines are about 18% efficient, as compared to 25%-ish for gasoline piston engines and as much as 40% for diesel engines. Hybrids also take all the complexity of a regular internal-combustion driveline and graft on a not-simple elctrically driven system. FWIW, hydrogen fuel cells run around 50% efficient, but then there’s the problem of hydrogen generation and delivery infrastructure.

    “Stick in enough batteries to give a 30-50 mile range and then use the turbine to provide juice directly to the electric motor, or to charge the batteries or some split as conditions allow.”

    As was pointed out above, you’re essentially describing the Chevrolet Volt.

    “Less batteries and weight makes the vehicle cheaper and therefore attractive and the range would be comparable to a normal vehicle. The fuel would be an open question but I’m sure turbines could be made that accepted petrol and ethanol allowing a transition away from one to the other.”

    There are already flex-fuel piston engines; at any rate, ethanol as a fuel is problematic as it competes with food production for resources.

  59. jkprime says

    First time commenter, long time reader. I understand that journalism is rife with bias and has often been disastrous at reporting on science stories but I dont think that is what we are seeing here.
    I am more concerned that as soon as Elon Musk puts up a few charts everyone rushes to the pitchforks. Did people go and look at the data, or just swoon at the charts. The data shared by Tesla seems to within reason correlate with the description in the NY Times. Both parties, Tesla and the Times are telling stories, and in the main people seem to be choosing whichever narrative better suits their personal position, hate journalists, love electric cars or hate big companies pick your side get your pitchfork. Go look at the data, take a deep breath and then write something that adds to the discussion.

  60. illdoittomorrow says

    Eric, @ 57:

    Going forward, many (most?) consumers may not have the luxury of having any cars in their garage. The cost of car ownership increased to $8,946(1) in the US in 2012 (a whopping $10,452 in Canada)(2). It’s been estimated that fuel costs now account for 4% of pre-tax income- for the average household (3). At any rate, owning a car just ain’t what it used to be, and fewer people are doing it (4).
    As with energy (the cheapest energy is that you don’t use), the cheapest (and most versatile) car might be the one you don’t buy. Car-sharing schemes are expanding rapidly. A couple of US states have introduced legislation to allow private car owners to become one-car rental agencies (Oregon is one of them, I think). More and more cities are trying to, or at least paying lip service to, becoming bike friendly. And, of course, you can rent a car for those infrequent long distance trips. I own a truck that I use for work, but it stays parked if I’m in town. if I didn’t work outside of my city, I wouldn’t own a motor vehicle at all.
    1) http://newsroom.aaa.com/2012/04/cost-of-owning-and-operating-vehicle-in-u-s-increased-1-9-percent-according-to-aaa%E2%80%99s-2012-%E2%80%98your-driving-costs%E2%80%99-study/
    2) http://pricetags.wordpress.com/2013/01/23/2012-car-ownership-busts-the-10000-bar/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter
    3) http://thehill.com/blogs/e2-wire/e2-wire/280873-fed-agency-2012-household-gasoline-costs-take-biggest-bite-in-decades
    4) http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-biz-0210-outside-tullman-20130210,0,7833242.story
    P.S.- Sorry for the links, my link-embedding-fu is weak…

  61. d.f.manno says

    I am amazed that PZ and many commenters are willing to accept Tesla’s story at face value. Why, because they have a couple of charts and graphs? Data may not lie, as Ichthyic (#46) said, but liars do manipulate data.

    Tell me which is the more likely scenario:

    1) A company with a reputation and millions of dollars on the line does whatever it can, including lie, to bury a bad review, or

    2) A reporter with no proven bias and no known axe to grind lies about a car review.

    This is not a Janet Cooke situation. Broder’s not going to be up for a Pulitizer for this one.

    Consumer Reports was testing a Fisker Karma when after only 200 miles the car just died on them. It had to be towed away. Sound familiar?

  62. richcon says

    True, but most consumers do not have the luxury of keeping three cars in their garage to meet three different purposes. Certainly not three cars that retail for between $50,000-80,000 each. What most consumers need is single vehicle that can do all three of the functions you mention. It doesn’t have to do all three well, but it must be able to do them.

    For what it’s worth, Tesla’s strategy here is a smart one: start at the upper end of the market, and price the cars to sell out at the number you’re able to produce. Then profit, invest back in better technology and production lines, ramp up production, reduce prices, and improve the range as fast as they can. The Roadster started at nearly $100,000 with a 230 mile range, and the Model S is between $52,400 to $72,400 for 160-300 mile range options. That’s in reach of more (but still a small number) of drivers, and is moving in the right direction.

    I fully expect this to continue, and for them to come up with continually lower-priced cars with larger production runs and longer ranges until they get reach the spot where they cover most peoples’ needs at more typical price points. Battery technology will continue to improve, and the cost per mile of range will keep going down. I don’t have a link handy, but they wrote a blog post back in the early days spelling this strategy out.

  63. Ichthyic says

    You clearly have a passionate desire for the reporter to be the bad guy in this case, and I completely understand,

    if that’s your take, then no, you understand nothing.

  64. unclefrogy says

    illdoittomorrow
    I do not know where you got the number for the efficiency of gas turbines or just what constitutes a gas turbine (natural gas gen-sets by GE)
    but turbine powered buses report differently 40% to 80% better than conventional drive-chain

    http://www.capstoneturbine.com/_docs/CS_CAP407_Trolza_lowres.pdf

    in full disclosure I lost a bunch of money investing at the top of the market for this company
    they might not be good for personal cars but for trucks and buses they look promising.

    uncle frogy

  65. Ichthyic says

    Consumer Reports was testing a Fisker Karma when after only 200 miles the car just died on them. It had to be towed away. Sound familiar?

    no, because that’s not at all what happened here.

    complete fail at comparison on your part.

  66. d.f.manno says

    @ Ichthyic (#70):

    Consumer Reports was testing a Fisker Karma when after only 200 miles the car just died on them. It had to be towed away. Sound familiar?

    no, because that’s not at all what happened here.

    complete fail at comparison on your part.

    Given your complete misreading of Broder’s article on the Volt, you’ll see why your perception counts for little with me.

    (The Volt article said one of reasons for the car’s problems was “a hostile political climate.” He quoted Limbaugh et al. to explain that climate, not because he “consider[ed] what these mouthpieces have to say of any merit.”)

  67. Fleegman says

    Ichthyic,

    if that’s your take, then no, you understand nothing.

    Well, I guess that’s me told, then.

    Sheesh.

    Oh wait, I see how this works. Forget about addressing the points anyone actually makes, I can simply claim you don’t know what you’re talking about and victory is mine!

    Brilliant!

    Thanks for the lesson in debate tactics. It’s easier than I thought!

    Moron.

  68. illdoittomorrow says

    Unclefrogy,

    I don’t remember exactly where I got the figure from (my bad- won’t do that again). Now that I’ve done some Googling, there are powerplant installations whose producers claim 60% fuel efficiency. If those gains could be realized in smaller engines, it would be great for ocean-going ships and rail, too.

  69. Ichthyic says

    Forget about addressing the points anyone actually makes

    yeah, exactly, which is why my response was what it was…. you didn’t address anything I actually said.

    why bother?

  70. Ichthyic says

    Given your complete misreading of Broder’s article on the Volt

    you mean the one where he included Beck and Limbaugh as serious opinions on the side against the electric car?

  71. Fleegman says

    Ichthyic,

    In this thread, you have said the following:

    my conclusion is you’re seeing what you want to see, and not how biased this guy really is.

    Only morons with paid agendas consider what these mouthpieces have to say of any merit.

    sorry, but no, Broder is entirely biased, and is just trying to cover that in his “defense”.

    To which I replied:

    Take a look at the data between the 200 and 300 mile mark, notably the remaining charge and the cabin temperature.

    Echoing what Richcon said, can you explain why the reporter would reduce the temperature in the cabin so significantly if he were trying to run down the battery as quickly as possible?

    Does it not strongly suggests an attempt to get as much out of the battery as possible? How does that tally with your assessment of his motivations?

    Which is me directly addressing what you’re saying. To help you muddle your way through this, I’m addressing your claim of bias, but providing evidence that he wasn’t trying to run down the battery as fast as possible, and if fact was trying to prolong its life.

    So when you say bullshit like is:

    yeah, exactly, which is why my response was what it was…. you didn’t address anything I actually said.

    it’s really fucking annoying.

    You agree that:

    data doesn’t lie.

    And yet you won’t look at the data, and would rather stick your fingers in your ears and scream “waaaaa waaaaaaa, he’s biased!“*

    Either explain how the data I’m highlighting supports your position, or admit that there may be more to this than simply Musk’s take on things.

    If you can’t do either of those things, kindly fuck off.

    Oh, and this:

    I expect a professional reviewer to know better.

    Your expectations are noted. You are of course aware that he doesn’t review cars for a living right? In fact, searching though his archived articles at the NYT, the Tesla piece was the only car review I could find going back to the beginning of 2012. So your expectations here are even more irrelevant.

  72. Olav says

    illdoittomorrow #74:

    Now that I’ve done some Googling, there are powerplant installations whose producers claim 60% fuel efficiency. If those gains could be realized in smaller engines, it would be great for ocean-going ships and rail, too.

    The number of 60% fuel efficiency is typical of combined cycle technology. Yes, it is used in ships as well. I don’t believe it could be used in trains, my understanding is that you need an installation of sufficient scale to make it work.

    Fun fact: powerplant technology and marine propulsion technology have quite a lot in common. So if you are an expert in one of those fields, you can also work in the other with relatively little adjustment.

    In one powerplant I once worked at about half the engineers were ex-mariners. It appeared to be a good career change for people who wanted to give up sailing (mostly, because of family). Of course these guys always had fascinating stories to tell.