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Tesla CEO Elon Musk accuses New York Times of lying about Model S range anxiety (update)

Tesla Model S

Three days ago, The New York Times wrote a scathing critique of the Tesla Model S, testifying that the all-electric sedan couldn't handle cold weather — dying before it reached its destination, even though a driver spent time shivering without a heater. Today, Elon Musk says it's simply not true: the Tesla CEO claims he has hard data which proves the Times faked the conclusion to its story. He insists vehicle logs kept by his company shed light on the truth, revealing that Broder failed to fully charge the Model S and that he "took a long detour" at one stage of his test drive. Musk has reason to be flustered: Tesla's stock price has dipped in the days since The New York Times published Broder's report.

In a statement to CNBC moments ago, Musk reiterated that Broder hadn't followed the terms agreed upon by both sides. "We explicitly said that to do this trip, he needs to make sure he's fully charged when he starts out, that he doesn't take detours, and that he drives at a reasonable speed," he said. "I'm not talking about some ridiculously low speed, but not too far above the speed limit. Those three things weren't done."

For its part, The New York Times is standing behind Broder's story as 100 percent accurate. Further, the publication insists its writer played by the rules. In a statement to The Verge, a spokesperson said:

The Times's February 10th article recounting a reporter's test drive in a Tesla Model S was completely factual, describing the trip in detail exactly as it occurred. Any suggestion that the account was "fake" is, of course, flatly untrue. Our reporter followed the instructions he was given in multiple conversations with Tesla personnel. He described the entire drive in the story; there was no unreported detour. And he was never told to plug the car in overnight in cold weather, despite repeated contact with Tesla.

Lending additional support to its claims, the Times is providing readers with its own "log." On its website you'll find a map complete with timestamps that document each of the problems Broder ran into during his test drive— which stretched from Washington, DC through Connecticut, where the Model S's battery became fully depleted and left Broder sitting in the passenger seat of a tow truck. "If this is Tesla’s vision of long-distance travel in America’s future," Broder writes, "it needs some work."

In response to the blistering piece, Tesla appears to have shifted into damage control mode. Musk says the company will soon issue a blog post revealing "what actually happened" during Broder's drive. Further, he says the company is recruiting other journalists to follow the exact route Broder traveled — presumably confident they'll see better results. To round out his response, Musk is also promising that new Superchargers will "soon" be installed along the east coast.

As for the "evidence" Musk mentioned, not much is known about Tesla's logging habits at this time. In a follow-up tweet, Musk says that car owners must provide written consent before the company will enable data logging for a consumer vehicle. However, he says that every car used for media test drive purposes is monitored by default. That policy was put into place following a negative review from Top Gear; Musk had a similar knee-jerk reaction then, accusing the popular car TV series of defamation and libel — both claims were ultimately dismissed in court.

Update: In an interview with Bloomberg West, Elon Musk suggests that he took issue with the second leg of Broder's journey, between the company's two Supercharger stations in Newark, Delaware and Milford, Connecticut. "He took an unplanned detour through downtown Manhattan, in heavy traffic," accused Musk, "instead of going on the interstate to the next supercharger station."

While the Times' map does indeed show Midtown Manhattan as a waypoint, Broder's story suggests he ran into range issues before making it to New York. "He also exceeded the speed limit quite substantially," says Musk, a point that the Times' piece disputes: Broder wrote that he set the car's cruise control to 54 miles per hour during the journey.

Musk says that Tesla will publish the actual logs from the car in question, in an attempt to clear up the matter, and that the company plans to install more supercharger stations on the east coast — one every 100 miles, Musk suggested.

Update 2: Tesla hasn't yet produced the logs Musk referred to yesterday, but John Broder seems fairly confident of what the data will indicate if and when it does turn up. He's addressed several arguments Tesla may attempt to make over at The New York Times today. Addressing Musk's accusations that he took a "long detour," Broder says his Manhattan stop added a mere two miles to the entire trip's distance. He also claims any accelerations in speed were extremely brief. You'll find his take here, and we'll continue to follow this story as it develops.

Sean Hollister contributed to this report.

The Verge
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