Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

A Most Peculiar Test Drive

Elon Musk responds to John Broder’s test drive of the Tesla Model S:

When I first heard about what could at best be described as irregularities in Broder’s behavior during the test drive, I called to apologize for any inconvenience that he may have suffered and sought to put my concerns to rest, hoping that he had simply made honest mistakes. That was not the case. […]

When the facts didn’t suit his opinion, he simply changed the facts. Our request of The New York Times is simple and fair: please investigate this article and determine the truth. You are a news organization where that principle is of paramount importance and what is at stake for sustainable transport is simply too important to the world to ignore.

Indeed, this is what I assumed. While the Times is no stranger to controversies with their writers, they are still one of the most reliable, well-regarded news sources in the world. Musk’s data appears to tell a completely different story to Broder’s article, and that has big implications.

If it turns out that Broder faked his story, that means that his journalistic credibility is ruined, and the overall regard of the Times takes another hit. But even if there’s a reasonable explanation for both sides’ accusations, it has proved that the clout of influence has shifted. There could be a bug that displays different information to the driver than what it should. There might be an issue with the graphs Musk presented. But this doesn’t look good for Broder’s article.

Obviously, the Times is going to investigate this. Margaret Sullivan, public editor of the paper:

On #Tesla: I’m on it, as they say. May take some time. Meanwhile, look for a point-by-point response on Wheels blog soon.

Both sides have obvious reasons to embellish the truth, but on the face of it, the data suggests that Broder simply lied. The final graph of Broder trying to run the Tesla flat appears to be damning.

However, Rebecca Greenfield of The Atlantic notes that several of Elon Musk’s claims are not supported by the data. Take the accusation of driving around in circles, apparently trying to run the battery flat:

Musk is accusing Broder of driving three times the most direct route. Maybe Broder missed the charging station and drove around the McDonald’s a couple times looking for it? At the speeds shown in the logs, Tesla says Broder spent around five minutes driving around the service plaza before stopping. If he was deliberately trying to drain the battery, he did not stick to the endeavor for very long.

There’s a lot left to this story.

Update: John Broder delivers his point-by-point rebuttal of Elon Musk’s post. In addition, the Times‘ public editor Margaret Sullivan has delivered her initial impressions on the charges. It seems Mr. Musk is doing damage control more than the Times is.