Eco-Living Magazine

What the Tesla-NYT Skirmish Actually Tells Us

Posted on the 21 February 2013 by 2ndgreenrevolution @2ndgreenrev

As many of you are probably aware, Tesla Motors and New York Times writer John Broder have been engaged in a heated public battle over the credibility of his damaging review of the Tesla Model S. Broder’s trip up the east coast started out well enough, but eventually left him stranded in Branford, Conn., forcing him to complete the last leg of his journey in the cab of a tow truck. Broder’s article, titled “Stalled Out on Tesla’s Electric Highway,” contested that the failed road trip was a testament that Tesla’s vision of long-distance travel still needs some work. After the review was published, Tesla CEO Elon Musk fired back on the company blog, citing many inconsistencies between Broder’s account and the test vehicle’s detailed logging data. Broder then produced a halfway decent rebuttal, which was followed by an even-handed final word by New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan.

So, who’s right? Who cares. A single review of any product, good or bad, is hardly indicative of its absolute value. But, that’s not to say there isn’t any truth behind Broder’s experience and Tesla’s response; both sides bring up good points that need to be addressed by prospective buyers of any electric vehicle.

The key takeaway is that there is a switching cost involved with any new technology. The recurring and central problem of Broder’s experience was his unfamiliarity with the Model S and electric vehicles in general–which is not his fault. By my count, he called Tesla at least three times to ask about charging techniques, range loss, and the location of charging stations. Roger Wilson, a Model S owner quoted in Sullivan’s editorial, listed several simple tips from the owner’s manual that he believes could have easily mitigated the need for a tow truck. Needless to say, electric cars are not a direct replacement for traditional vehicles. As with a new phone or computer, consumers will need to invest some time as they climb their way up the learning curve.

Following Broder’s review, nine prideful Model S owners completed the same journey with no range issues. While their accomplishment reinforces the fact that Broder’s lack of experience was his own worst enemy, a circuitry problem encountered by one of the cars demonstrates the other woes of new technologies: defects and software glitches. Tesla fixed the problem in an hour with a remote software update, but critics were quick to frame it as another nail in the coffin of electric transportation. Tesla has also received complaints of touchscreens failing, faulty doors and rear hatches, and vehicles randomly powering down. These problems are flat out unacceptable, but they shouldn’t come as a complete surprise to adopters of first-generation, cutting-edge technology. Though Tesla’s problems are of a somewhat different nature, recalls and defects, even by the most established automakers, are not all that uncommon.

Tesla has software updates that address some of these issues, but it might be best to play things safe until the bugs are ironed out in the next generation. Let’s just hope there are enough early adopters to keep Tesla going.

Images by Tesla Motors and author

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