If you're just joining our story, earlier this week the New York Times posted the results of a test drive of the Tesla Model S, a story in which the reporter, John Broder, claimed that the car fell woefully short of its stated travel range. In response, the founder of Tesla, Elon Musk, fired back at the story, calling it "fake," and promised to post the travel log data from the car to disprove Broder's claims. Musk has finally delivered on that promise with a detailed report that ensures this dispute over the range of the Tesla Model S is probably only just beginning.
In a post on the Tesla site titled "A Most Peculiar Test Drive," Musk claims that the vehicle "never ran out of energy at any time, including when Broder called the flatbed truck." Musk also claims that Broder didn't follow the company's vehicle charging directives and even passed a charging station when the car's battery was low.
But the biggest accusation lobbed comes toward the end of the post when Musk writes, "When the facts didn’t suit [Broder's] opinion, he simply changed the facts." Musk's view, based on previous stories filed by the reporter, is that Broder, for some unknown reason, has something against electric vehicles. Whether that is true or not is a matter that will likely receive a great deal of scrutiny in the coming weeks and months.
However, Musk's claims also raise another point: If he really thinks that the reporter flat-out lied, why aren't we hearing an announcement of a lawsuit, similar to the one the company filed against U.K. television program Top Gear? Even if this situation doesn't end up becoming a legal matter, the saga of the New York Times versus Tesla has already reached such heated levels of exchange that this episode is sure to go down as a major turning point in the history of electric vehicles no matter who is ultimately viewed as the victor.
One other unrelated point this episode raises is that of privacy. Musk has made a point of declaring that travel log data on Tesla vehicles will only be recorded with the customer's permission, and that in this instance the data was recorded because it was a loaner car to a member of the media. Nevertheless, for some, the notion of driving a vehicle with such capabilities, even with data logging turned off, could cause some would-be Tesla owners to pause before signing that pricey purchase order.
In the end, it seems the only way to once and for all prove or disprove either party's claims would be to have an objective third-party accompany the reporter and a Tesla representative unannounced to a Tesla dealership and simply try the test again. Barring that, the dispute is now a matter of whether you believe the reporter's experiential reporting data or trust what Musk says is the complete, raw travel log data from the vehicle itself.
Alternatively, one could simply take the word of a reviewer from Consumer Reports, who didn't seem to experiece any of the problems reported by Broder. You can judge for yourself by reading Musk's full rebuttal here.
Update: The Atlantic's Rebecca Greenfield has posted a in-depth analysis of Elon Musk's data-filled retort. It serves as a thoughtful counterpoint; read it here.