The Times published a scathing review of a test drive in the new Tesla Model S, in which reporter John Broder described the futuristic electric supercar (itself a winner of a Popular Science Best Of What's New award) repeatedly losing its charge, behaving oddly, and shutting down during a long-distance road trip along the Northeast Corridor.
One of the most interesting things about this very interesting (and ongoing) story is the news that Tesla has begun implementing detailed tracking systems in their test cars specifically when those cars are lent to journalists. That way they can know exactly what happened during the test, and in the case of a potentially inaccurate review, they have proof of what really happened.
This is totally unprecedented, but I suspect it will become more commonplace very soon. Most consumer products now have the capability to record data--there's no reason why, say, Apple can't do this when they send out review units of the new iPhone. That way when a reviewer says the battery life could hardly make it through a day, Apple can check to make sure the phone was fully charged at the beginning of the day, or that the way the phone was used is representative of a normal daily use case.
And this could be done for just about any review. Restaurants could have temperature gauges in plates and utensils. ("According to the smartfork, the veal was 44 degrees C when it touched the reviewer's tongue. Hardly 'tepid.'") Books could communicate whether the reviewer really did finish the book, and how quickly. Clothing could measure whether wear and tear were natural. Travel reviewers could have GPS trackers to make sure they actually visited the places they say they did. It's creepy, sure, but reviewers have a responsibility to the public to get things right.
The other side of this is that, unlike what Gizmodo blogger Jesus Diaz suggests, of course you can argue against data. Data lies all the time! In the case of Elon Musk and the New York Times, a perfect example is that Broder, the Times writer, describes his Model S running out of charge and having to be lifted onto a flatbed and towed to a charging station. In his response, Musk writes: "As the State of Charge log shows, the Model S battery never ran out of energy at any time, including when Broder called the flatbed truck." Seems pretty cut and dried, right? Broder must have lied!
But not necessarily! Electronic items, including electric cars but also items like smartphones, will shut down with some charge remaining, perhaps even up to five percent. That's so the gadget can maintain its memory, and also sometimes because the gadget in question needs more than that very low percent of charge to operate properly. It is totally factually possible that Broder's Model S never ran out of energy, even while on the flatbed--but that also doesn't mean the car could actually drive. And in fact, Jalopnik reports that the towing company says the Model S was, in fact, dead when they arrived.
Data can have the potential to keep reviewers precise and honest. And as a reviewer myself, I don't fault Tesla at all for wanting to track the test drive--in fact, I'm surprised other companies don't also do this, and I wouldn't mind if the gadgets I test were also tracked. But as this kind of debate happens more and more, it's important to remember that raw data isn't always a smoking gun. It illuminates, but can also obscure.
I very much enjoyed this article. It is true that statistics are often massaged to fit one's needs. However, until more comes from this juicy story, I'm siding with Mr. Musk.
Although, it would seem like quite the act for a reviewer to actually call a tow-truck, in what I assume to be the middle of winter, just to trash a car that is working well. But trash sells, and a good review may not...
Dan and all your opinions, where is the meat in this article and technical information for us readers to read?
The world does not center around you, ya know.
While I can understand that there will be gray areas involved in "he said she said" arguments like this, it's difficult to refute some of Musk's points:
"Cruise control was never set to 54 mph as claimed in the article, nor did he limp along at 45 mph. Broder in fact drove at speeds from 65 mph to 81 mph for a majority of the trip and at an average cabin temperature setting of 72 F."
"When he first reached our Milford, Connecticut Supercharger, having driven the car hard and after taking an unplanned detour through downtown Manhattan to give his brother a ride, the display said "0 miles remaining." Instead of plugging in the car, he drove in circles for over half a mile in a tiny, 100-space parking lot. When the Model S valiantly refused to die, he eventually plugged it in."
Musk follows with several graphs showing recorded data straight from the car.
Quite difficult to combat hard facts, figures, and data with rhetoric. I'm siding with Musk on this one.
The question that pops into my mind is what could possibly motivate people to falsely rip on Tesla's cars. And I say that as a diehard Top Gear fan! Tesla's model S is an incredible machine, and deserves so much better. At this point it's a mystery how anyone could resist the car's charms and betray it like that. By all accounts, even the most calcified petrol-heads adore it, with its incredible acceleration, good range, spacious interior, sleek styling and above-average handling.
But perhaps most disturbing of all, how on earth could a New York Times writer possibly get away with blatantly lying in a review? Aren't newspapers ostensibly supposed to be TRUTHFUL? I hope he gets reprimanded.
Always defer to facts rather than philosophy.
They never actually run out of juice since the battery is designed to leave almost a 15% charge to preserve the battery from being completely depleted and damaging it. The Leaf actually only uses 21 kWh of it's 24 kwH for driving the car.
The logging will probably just up the debate. From what I've read about this fiasco, I'd say that the truth is somewhere in the middle. The journo probably made some interpretations, but Musk is pitching his side through his own rose colored glasses.
As has been pointed out in several places, there is every chance that the battery DID shut down with a small charge left. Musk chooses to ignore that possibility.,
There is one other issue that is more serious -- logs are not always infallible. But, people ASSUME that they are.
Not that most companies would have deliberately false logs, but errors do happen.
Shouldn't comsumers be looking for a consensus of opinion from several sources. WOrks for me.
I think it would be very useful if all cars measured their gas mileage and an independent agency gathered and published this data on a daily basis. Yet again, I have bought a car partially because of its claimed low fuel consumption figures only to find out that my fuel bills will end up being 30% higher than I thought.
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