Tesla v. Broder: Blame the Weather, and Everyone Else Just for Good Measure


Tesla Motors Store in Washington, DC
Tesla Motors Store in Washington, DC

Ever since a now infamous test drive and review by The New York Times reporter John Broder, a small storm has been brewing, both for and against electric vehicles in general, but especially the Tesla Model S.

Here at The Green Optimistic, we’ve been watching Tesla Motors and this particular Model S story closely, and we weren’t really expecting that it would blow over all that quickly. After all, the Tesla Model S isn’t some backyard project, but a full-scale production vehicle, and we believe it’s here to stay.

After some sharing of vehicle data logs and multiple attempts by other reporting agencies and even some private parties, The New York Times editor Margaret Sullivan wrote a response, which puts the blame squarely on everyone, including the weather. “Mr. Broder and The Times have maintained that the article was done in good faith, and that it is an honest account of what happened.” Sullivan admits, though, that “the test drive, it’s safe to say, did not go well.”

This paragraph, in my opinion, is especially telling, “Did he use good judgment along the way? Not especially. In particular, decisions he made at a crucial juncture – when he recharged the Model S in Norwich, Conn., a stop forced by the unexpected loss of charge overnight – were certainly instrumental in this saga’s high-drama ending.” Had Mr. Broder done some planning, like driving responsibly, recharging fully, and leaving the charger plugged in overnight, then I guess the story wouldn’t have been that gripping.

Sullivan also blames Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk for providing “digitally recorded driving logs, which Mr. Musk has use, in the most damaging (and sometimes quite misleading) ways possible, as he defended his vehicle’s reputation.” Honestly, how can a few scribbled notes in a notepad compare with that, and then, how could the data show anything but the truth?

Regarding the weather, it is an undisputed fact that any vehicle loses fuel efficiency in cold weather, whether driven by liquid fuel or electrons. The difference is, though, how long it takes to refuel and where you can actually refuel. Running out of gasoline in the middle of nowhere is just as bad as depleting your battery where there are no charging stations around.

Really, all that is needed is planning. If your trip computer indicates your remaining distance to empty is 12 miles and you see a sign on the highway that says No Fuel for 45 Miles, you would stop at this station instead of worrying that you’ll run out of fuel somewhere between. Electric vehicles, such as the Tesla Model S, are no different than conventional vehicles, except that their recharging stations are not as abundant. If everyone drive their vehicles around with the same amount of planning that Broder made, we’d all be stuck on the side of the road.

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