February 19, 2013
About That Tesla Test Drive
It would be really great if fully electric automobiles were as practical as traditional, fuel-powered models. The benefits are all there: zero emissions help us take the first step towards cleaner air, while skipping out on gasoline lessens our dependence on a resource with very limited availability. Yet, for all the advances in electric car technology, (they are commercially available now, after all) they’re not yet ready to take on the good old-fashioned American Road Trip.
And, as New York Times writer John Broder recently found out, one electric car in particular isn’t even ready for the bitter cold of the American Northeast.
[ Editor’s Note: A slightly alternative viewpoint is posted here. ]
Elon Musk, the same guy who helped create PayPal and has recently been trying to blast freight into outer space, likely has a different eye for electric cars. While efficient and available, today’s electric cars have their limitations, both on speed and style. Musk’s Tesla S Performance model is capable of reaching 60 miles per hour from a dead stop in 4.4 seconds. Yet, the company claims that when driven normally, both the Model S and Model S Performance are capable of traveling about 265 miles between charges, much farther than Nissan Leaf’s 130 miles.
Broder had worked with the PR team at Tesla to give the Model S a proper test on the eastern seaboard as a way to promote their new charging stations between Boston and Washington. The automaker has placed 6 “Supercharger” stations at various points along the west coast, making for a comfortable road trip from LA to San Francisco and back, easy as you please. These Supercharger stations can “fuel up” your Model S in “minutes, not hours,” according to the company. Plus, they even pay for the electricity and have strategically placed them next to places where you might want to hang out for 30 minutes or more, like cafes and roadside diners. Had all gone according to plan, Broder should have been able to take a leisurely drive from Washington to Boston, stopping twice in between to fuel up his test car. Unfortunately, all did not go according to plan, starting off with temperatures that did not breach 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
Apparently, cold weather takes away 10 percent of the car’s normal range. Making matters worse, running the heater also robs the car of a few miles, and when there are only a few electric charging stations across America, each mile is precious.
During his test drive, Broder encountered more than a few issues, including having the car towed to the nearest charging station. Not a Tesla-owned Supercharger, mind you; just a regular, plain-jane electric automobile recharging station. This tow took place after the Model S informed Broder that it was shutting down somewhere in Connecticut.
All of these perils made their way into Broder’s piece, giving people plenty to talk about over the weekend.
In a move to defend his brand, Musk released his own data about the test drive, claiming that Broder had faked his test drive and even attempted to sabotage the thing in order to make the Model S appear less-capable than it really is.
In a blog post entitled “A Most Peculiar Test Drive,” Musk claimed Broder “changed the facts” to suit his own opinion and presented facts obtained from the test car by the company.
“But, wait!” you may be saying.
“How did they get this information?”
As it turns out, this isn’t the first time Tesla has run into problems with the media saying negative things about their automobiles.
In Series 12, Episode 7 of the auto-themed BBC program “Top Gear,” the Tesla Roadster was seen being pushed by the show’s hosts after it had presumably stopped running after only 55 miles, instead of their claimed 211 miles. The hosts had tested the Roadster on their own track, a course used to test other Supercars, which is how Tesla defined their Roadster at the time. After doing some calculations based on Tesla’s own math, the Top Gear guys concluded the car would only run for 55 miles and then shot themselves pushing the car.
Tesla took Top Gear to court (a battle which they lost) and ever since have been putting tattletale devices in each car they lend to the media, just to keep everyone honest.
The thing is, many of Musk’s arguments don’t add up, not to mention the fact the he and his company were certainly quick with this data to refute Broder’s claims. It was almost as if they were ready for a fight, had been preparing it all along. And it wouldn’t have been hard to set up. According to the original New York Times piece, Broder had been on the phone multiple times with different people from Tesla’s team to locate new charging stations, how to condition the battery and other tips for conserving power.
With plenty of charts and graphs and frustrated language, Musk claims Broder even tried to run the battery into the ground in the parking lot of a fueling station next to a McDonalds.
“Instead of plugging in the car, (Broder) drove in circles for over half a mile in a tiny, 100-space parking lot,” writes Musk.
“When the Model S valiantly refused to die, he eventually plugged it in.”
As pointed out in a great piece by the Atlantic Wire, it’s hard to believe that driving a car in circles in a small parking lot for five minutes would run down a battery. It’s even harder to believe a journalist with a blood lust for destroying the Tesla brand with a solitary negative review would give up his quest after only five minutes.
Musk also says Broder claimed that the battery had run down to zero, necessitating a tow to the nearest charging station. According to his charts (which he pulled from Broder’s test car), the battery had never reached zero, suggesting that Broder was just faking the tow.
The tow is actually an important part to this entire story, as a picture of a gruff tow truck operator accompanies the original Times piece, hauling a cherry red Tesla Model S onto the back of a flatbed.
As it turns out, even the emergency break is powered by electricity, and without it, the brake does not disengage.
Musk later claims that Broder passed by electric charging stations instead of stopping to top off the “tank.”
As the point of this article was to test the range of the Tesla Model S between their own supercharging stations, to have stopped at just any electric charging station would have lessened Tesla’s claims about their long range automobiles.
There are those who side with Broder in this argument and those who side with Musk. Yet, it seems the important issue here is that electric cars still have a way to go. If Tesla’s estimated mileage is anywhere close to accurate, than perhaps we’re on our way.
For now, we’re at a point where people want to keep pointing at charts and graphs and blaming one another of trying to fulfill political agendas.
We’re not there yet.
Image Credit: Tesla Motors