Tesla rebuts Times story with secret data trail from test drive
Elon Musk tends to take all things related to Tesla Motors on a personal level. Only recently did Musk stop inspecting every Model S that left the California factory; much of his wealth and private life has been poured into the company, and he's made clear that Tesla isn't just another Silicon Valley startup, but something closer to a religious calling.
So it wasn't a shock that Musk would take strong exception to a New York Times piece detailing a troubled test drive of the Model S and Tesla's new East Coast quick-charging stations. But early this morning, Musk released his full rebuttal, contending the Times writer knowingly pushed the car to fail. His evidence: A trove of data recorded by the car itself during the drive about its speed, location, recharging and even its heating controls, apparently without the writer's knowledge.
Like many luxury cars, the Tesla Model S comes with a built-in 3G cellular data connection and a GPS unit, to provide services like Google maps and locations of charging stations on its 17-inch dashboard touchscreen. But the car also regularly sends some data back to Tesla when charging, mainly to warn of potential service problems and receive software updates. Beyond that basic data, its computers can also record detailed information gathered about the car's travels as it maximize the range from its batteries — a log that makes the typical "black box" in most vehicles look like a crayon taped to a hamster wheel.
According to Musk, Tesla leaves the data logs on its customers' cars off by default, but began enabling a full data log on any media drive of the Model S after BBC's Top Gear portrayed a Tesla Roadster as running out of charge on the track when it still had energy left, a policy that wasn't known before the Times article. Using the data from the Times drive, Musk contends Times writer John Broder "did not accurately capture what happened and worked very hard to force our car to stop running."
Broder reported that he set the Model S to cruise at 54 mph in New Jersey when it appeared he could not reach a Tesla Supercharger station in Milford, Conn., and turned off the cabin heat to maximize range, reporting "my feet were freezing and my knuckles were turning white." Musk says the data logs tell a different story: the Model S averaged 60 mph on that leg of the trip, and the cabin heat was set to 74 degrees outside New York, before being shut off about 70 miles away from the charger.