She said Broder didn't fake the story, but could have been more responsible

The New York Times has been battling with Tesla's Elon Musk ever since the news outlet published its article about a Model S test drive experience gone wrong. After going back and forth with Tesla's CEO, NYT has invited another one of its journalists into the controversy for a final word on the topic (hopefully).

Margaret Sullivan, NYT's public editor, posted in the NYT's Opinion Pages yesterday about her perspective of the Model S trip. She attempted to be unbiased as possible, pointing out the faults of both John Broder -- the NYT journalist who embarked on the Model S road trip and wrote that the car failed him in terms of range -- and Tesla, the automaker responsible for the Model S.

Sullivan said that Broder definitely should have paid more attention to the vehicle's manual and been more responsible in certain situations (such as charging for longer periods of time or charging overnight) during the trip. However, she notes that Tesla could have also made it clear that all charging maximization strategies should have been used along the way, since the 200 miles between each Supercharging station on the east coast would definitely push the vehicle to its limits (especially without proper charging).

Sullivan even quoted one NYT reader, which is a Model S driver himself who took the time to write in about his opinion of the trip. The reader is Roger Wilson of Falls Church, Virginia, and he summed up the story like this: Broder was irresponsible in making sure that he knew about all the range maximizing techniques (which, there are a few), and he may have purposefully been a little irresponsible in order to make his article seem more interesting -- however, Broder didn't "fake" the story, and Tesla made no effort to tell Broder that he should use these different techniques along the way.

Here is Wilson's full opinion:

In his article (and follow-ups), Mr. Broder states that he followed Tesla’s advice during his drive. But, if he had taken time to read the owner’s manual beforehand (which, at 30-or-so well-written pages, would have taken an hour), he would have known about:

• “The ‘Max Range’ setting, which would have charged the battery beyond the ‘standard’ range and given him 20-30 miles more range;
• “The ‘Range Mode’ setting, which would have conserved battery during the drive;
• “The section entitled ‘Driving Tips for Maximum Range’;
• “And, the concept of plugging the vehicle in (especially during his overnight stop): ‘Tesla strongly recommends leaving Model S plugged in when not in use.’ and ‘The most important way to preserve the Battery is to LEAVE YOUR MODEL S PLUGGED IN when you’re not using it.’

Had he employed at least one of these tidbits, he probably wouldn’t have been ‘stalled’ on the EV highway. But, then again, it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting a story if he made the trip successfully (and could have only complained about the inconveniences of staying at the charging station longer than he cared to or having to plug in the car overnight).

In follow-ups, he claims that he was only ‘testing’ the supercharger network. If this had been the case, the story wouldn’t have focused on him driving 45 m.p.h. and being cold (and the infamous picture of the Tesla on the flatbed), but would have simply stated that the two current supercharger stations (which just opened recently) are too far apart and that one might have to rely on non-Tesla public charging stations until more supercharger stations are installed.

Unlike Mr. Musk, I don’t claim that Mr. Broder ‘faked’ the story, but he certainly didn’t seem to employ the least bit of care or responsibility in fuel management (required of any vehicle, regardless of fuel type). One can only assume that Mr. Broder’s irresponsibility in fuel management was in hope that something beyond ‘inconvenience’ would happen to make the story more interesting. (Otherwise, no one, including me, would have paid much attention to his article.)

Tesla is not faultless in this, especially since it suggested the test drive. Tesla should have made it very clear that the 200-mile stretch between the two supercharger stations approaches the maximum distance and that all range maximization strategies should be employed.


Sullivan said she agreed with Wilson's opinion. As someone who was not directly apart of the trip in any way, Sullivan believes that Broder did embellish the story a little bit and took shoddy notes -- but said he did not "fake" it and she believes he didn't want it to end badly. In this, she attempts to restore Broder's (and NYT's) journalistic integrity.

"People will go on contesting these points – and insisting that they know what they prove — and that’s understandable," said Sullivan. "In the matter of the Tesla Model S and its now infamous test drive, there is still plenty to argue about and few conclusions that are unassailable."

NYT staff writer John Broder took Tesla's Model S sedan on an east coast road trip this winter with the intention of checking out the new East Coast Superchargers, then writing an article about. The article, published February 10, described a horrible adventure where the electric vehicle's range failed on many occasions and eventually had to be towed. Tesla CEO Elon Musk became suspicious of Broder's claims, since so many other journalists had made similar or more tasking trips in the Model S. He pulled the driving logs from Broder's Model S and discovered that the NYT article had some inaccuracies. Musk accused Broder of having a biased opinion against EVs before even receiving the Model S, and hence, set the car up for failure in many "no-win" scenarios. Broder then replied to Musk in a new article, pointing out that he was unaware of any other charging stations along the way, or of maximized charging techniques.

Source: The New York Times

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