TodayApril 16, 2022

Tesla versus The Times, a Tempest in a teapot

New York Times versus Tesla’s Elon Musk

It’s too bad that both The New York Times and Elon Musk, Co-founder and Owner of Tesla Motors, have lost sight of the story that was supposed to be written. One has to wonder how much of this Tempest in a Teapot is the new-fashioned click-through digital war this world has become.

It was supposed to be a simple little story about Elon Musk’s Superchargers. “I was delighted to receive the assignment to try out the companys new East Coast Supercharger network,” claimed the New York Times writer John Broder in his Valentine’s Day blog, defending his first article, “A Detour on the Road to an Electric Future,” dated February 8, 2013. Looking through other articles Broder has written for The New York Times I would classify him as an energy reporter, not a car reviewer. Yet the article spent more time on the Tesla S, a car that had already been reviewed by The Times, by a well-acclaimed car reviewer, Bradley Berman, on September 28, 2012, than it did on the Superchargers.

Elon Musk then came out swinging with all the data a little black box can give a car manufacturer, tweeting on February 11, 2013, multiple times,” Elon Musk @elonmusk, “Tesla data logging is only turned on with explicit written permission from customers, but after Top Gear BS, we always keep it on for media.”

And then again, Elon Musk @elonmusk, “Tesla blog coming soon detailing what actually happened on Broder’s NYTimes ˜range test. Also lining up other journalists to do the same drive. NYTimes article about Tesla range in cold is fake. Vehicle logs tell a true story that he didn’t actually charge to max & took a long detour.”

While it may have been news to Musk that journalists don’t always do what they’re told to do, it’s not surprising to me. I drive a new car, on average, 3 times a week. At best I follow the route directed by the car manufacturer; at worst I intentionally don’t follow it because I have another agenda. But in between, I plain miss a turn and get lost. None of this should have mattered to anyone and it certainly doesn’t get mentioned in my stories if I miss a turn, or take another route. The story was supposed to be about the Superchargers that have taken charging Electric Vehicles (EV) from three to eight hours to one hour, a historical monument.

I have also reported on Electric Vehicles (EVs) and the loss of energy commensurate to the miles driven and due to the heat, cold or mountainous terrain. I have reported that regenerative braking helps capture the energy lost, which builds back into how many miles I have. I’ve been forced to turn off the heat, or the air conditioning, in order to make it home.

I report these issues because they are real. I report them because I don’t want someone who can’t handle the nuances of a car of the future to buy a car that is not suitable to their needs. I have stated more than once that Electric Vehicles are not ready for primetime cross-country road trips. But it is less about the car, than about the infrastructure, something Mr. Broder and Mr. Musk loss sight of in their penchant to be right.

When hybrids came on the market there were negative reviews. I remember the first Toyota Prius I drove. Every time I stopped at a light, or stop sign, the entire engine shut off, cutting the air conditioning, while I sweltered in the 113-degree heat of Sacramento, CA.

It has been my thought that Electric Vehicles are still not ready for the mainstream. I am a proponent of the extended range vehicle, the Chevy Volt, the Toyota Prius plug-in, the Ford C-Max Energi because they combine plugging in with a generator-like component, or a hybrid, on the vehicle that alleviates range anxiety. This type of vehicle also allows car companies, public utilities, and our Government to monitor the electric grid and figure out solutions to our electrical infrastructure before electric vehicles become mainstream.

In January 2013 I was in Canyon Point, Utah driving a Range Rover Autobiography. The top cost of that vehicle runs about $140,000, way more than the most expensive Tesla S. I could have taken Land Rover’s sister vehicle, a Jaguar XJL Supersport to the Amangiri and been just as satisfied, but we wouldn’t have been able to participate in the next days activities of off-roading in the Utah hills.

Paradoxically, we would have been able to off-road in a Range Rover if it were a Range Rover EV, except there is no infrastructure to support charging Electric Vehicles. We stopped at lunch for an hour, plenty of time to completely charge a Tesla S, at a quaint burger joint and then we were on our way again.

While on that trip a couple of the journalists noted the volatile price of diesel at two gasoline stations, ranging 90 cents in the difference between being on the highway, to being at a little Mom and Pop store. Even diesel, while at 40% of the gasoline stations, can be hard to find.

The beauty of having so many cars to pick from is being able to find the one car that suit’s your life. According to R.L. Polk, one of the reasons that brand loyalty is around 50% is because car companies have an array of vehicles to pick from, one for any need your heart desires. But if you purchase an EV, you are limited by the infrastructure at your home and on the road.

Just ten points down from brand loyalty, though, is hybrid loyalty. R.L. Polks Lonnie Miller told me that 38% of hybrid buyers are loyal to that powertrain. This means that once you have purchased a hybrid, range extender, EV, you are about 40% more likely to purchase another like-minded powertrain.

Could this be because owners know what Kelly Blue Book just came out with, that the Chevy Volt has the least cost of hybrid ownership? Workers at four Verizon offices were asked if they would buy an EV if Verizon installed charging units to charge their cars while they were at work. Eighty percent of the 8,000 people who work at the four offices said yes.

In a speech at the Washington Auto Show, U.S. Secretary of Energy, Dr. Steven Chu, confirmed that “We (the United States) spend roughly $1 billion dollars a day on foreign oil.” Could it be that there are more like-minded people such as Indianapolis’ Mayor Ballard, who “don’t want to see another soldier go to the battlefield in order to protect foreign oil?”

Whatever the reason, personal or patriotic, nothing is going to stop the Electric Vehicle. The designs are beautiful, people who buy EVs, range extenders and hybrids know their limitations and their advantages.

Mr. Broder and Mr. Musk need to realize that the rest of the nation understands that the two of them are fighting, if not a battle of egos, a battle of viewership. If that battle continues then this Nation loses the war on self-reliance that, I believe, both of them believe in, and hold dear.

We have the ability, the science and technology to be self-reliant. Now we need the will.

Lou Ann Hammond

Lou Ann Hammond is the CEO of Carlist and Driving the Nation. She is the co-host of Real Wheels Washington Post carchat every Friday morning and is the Automotive, energy correspondent for The John Batchelor Show and a Contributor to Automotive Electronics magazine headquartered in Korea. Hammond is a founding member of the Women's World Car of the Year #WWCOTY, and board member of the Women in Automotive.