One of the biggest hurdles for electric cars in the American market is range anxiety: the fear that the car's batteries will run out before you can recharge them, leaving you stranded. A review of the Tesla Model S electric car in The New York Times not only takes on range anxiety, but is also causing some anxiety among Tesla investors and anger from Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
The goal of the Times piece was to check out newly installed fast-charging stations along interstate 95 between Washington, D.C. and Boston. The charging stations are owned and operated by Tesla. The Times explains, "The new charging points, at service plazas in Newark, Del., and Milford, Conn., are some 200 miles apart. That is well within the Model S’s 265-mile estimated range, as rated by the Environmental Protection Agency, for the version with an 85 kilowatt-hour battery that I drove — and even more comfortably within Tesla’s claim of 300 miles of range under ideal conditions. Of course, mileage may vary."
The problem? The mileage in the Models S the Times writer was driving did vary. While driving in New Jersey, the car's indicated range began to drop, so Times writer John Broder "began following Tesla’s range-maximization guidelines, which meant dispensing with such battery-draining amenities as warming the cabin and keeping up with traffic. I turned the climate control to low — the temperature was still in the 30s — and planted myself in the far right lane with the cruise control set at 54 miles per hour (the speed limit is 65)."
Despite his efforts, and calling Tesla for advice, the car barely made it to the next charging station. After continuing his journey, Broder stopped for the night with the car indicating it had 90 miles of range. The next morning, the car said it had 25 miles of range, which was not nearly enough to make it to the next charging station. Tesla helped him find a place to charge nearby, but even after charging, the car couldn't make it to the next station and the battery died.
After the review was published, however, Musk smelled a rat. He hit Twitter, writing, "NYTimes article about Tesla range in cold is fake. Vehicle logs tell true story that he didn't actually charge to max & took a long detour." Tesla has data logs on all Model S sedans. Musk later explained on Twitter, "Tesla data logging is only turned on with explicit written permission from customers, but after Top Gear BS, we always keep it on for media." Tesla sued the BBC and its show Top Gear in 2011 for claiming the Model S only got 55 miles on a charge. The suit has since been dismissed.
For its part, The New York Times is standing by the story. Automobiles Editor James G. Cobb wrote on Twitter, "To reiterate: NYT report on Tesla Model S was totally factual, describing trip in detail as it occurred. No 'long detour.'"
The story has more weight than a typical back-and-forth between a reviewer and car company, however. Yahoo! Autos writes, "Had this story run any other time, Tesla and other electric vehicle supporters could have easily shrugged off the ride as another quirk in the adventure. Model S owners have reported several glitches in the car; last December, a Model S left an Autoweek writer stranded and required an emergency house call from a Tesla mechanic. But we're days away from Tesla reporting fourth-quarter financial results, from when the company was reaching full production on the Model S. Investors pushed Tesla's stock down on the story this morning; one analyst told The Wall Street Journal the earnings would be 'the make-or-break quarter.' That's hyperbole, but after years of talk Wall Street wants proof Tesla can make money building $90,000 electric cars."
CNNMoney adds, "Tesla's stock dropped more than 3% Monday. So much for all those ‘Car of the Year’ awards?"
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