In his first response to Musk’s accusations, Broder conceded:
Virtually everyone says that I should have plugged in the car overnight in Connecticut, particularly given the cold temperature. But the test that Tesla offered was of the Supercharger, not of the Model S, which we already know is a much-praised car. This evaluation was intended to demonstrate its practicality as a “normal use,” no-compromise car, as Tesla markets it.
That seems fair, but it’ll be interesting to see what Broder has to say for himself in his second riposte.
[Update, February 14, 6:45 p.m.] As expected, Broder posted a point-by-point rebuttal of all of Musk’s charges on Thursday evening, and his explanations are, for the most part, eminently reasonable. Where the reportorial discrepancies regarding his speed are concerned, he had this to say:
I drove normally (at the speed limit or with prevailing traffic) when I thought it was prudent to do so. I do recall setting the cruise control to about 54 m.p.h., as I wrote. The log shows the car traveling about 60 m.p.h. for a nearly 100-mile stretch on the New Jersey Turnpike. I cannot account for the discrepancy, nor for a later stretch in Connecticut where I recall driving about 45 m.p.h., but it may be the result of the car being delivered with 19-inch wheels and all-season tires, not the specified 21-inch wheels and summer tires. That just might have impacted the recorded speed, range, rate of battery depletion or any number of other parameters.
Broder also couldn’t explain the discrepancy between the 47-minute charge that Musk claimed and the 58-minute charge that he reported. This suggests that at worst Broder wasn’t taking notes carefully enough, but that doesn’t come close to justifying Musk’s allegations that his article was a “fake” and “a setup.” Oh, and about driving around in circles in Milford, Broder had this to say:
While Mr. Musk has accused me of doing this to drain the battery, I was in fact driving around the Milford service plaza on Interstate 95, in the dark, trying to find the unlighted and poorly marked Tesla Supercharger.
Who hasn’t been there? Following Broder’s post, Margaret Sullivan, the Times’s public editor, who’d written a inconclusive post about “conflicting assertions” earlier in the day, added this update on Thursday evening:
Mr. Broder’s detailed response to Mr. Musk’s accusations has been posted on the Wheels blog. I hope to post again Friday with some conclusions but for now, based on a day’s reporting, I will say this much: I reject Mr. Musk’s central contention that Mr. Broder’s Sunday piece was faked in order to sabotage the Model S or the electric-car industry.
Indeed, Musk’s allegations look like nothing more than a petty attempt to trash a reporter’s reputation for writing a review that Musk didn’t like. Hopefully, this sordid affair is now over, but it should also be a learning moment for journalists doing any sort of product review: always take detailed notes, keep different kinds of records if you can, and don’t think for a second that manufacturers won’t come after you if they perceive a threat to their bottom line.
[Update, February 18, 12:30 p.m.] After talking with Musk, Broder, and a variety of other sources, Sullivan posted her final thoughts on the test-drive feud on Monday afternoon. Sullivan said she was convinced that Broder “took on the test drive in good faith, and told the story as he experienced it,” but:
In addition, Mr. Broder left himself open to valid criticism by taking what seem to be casual and imprecise notes along the journey, unaware that his every move was being monitored. A little red notebook in the front seat is no match for digitally recorded driving logs, which Mr. Musk has used, in the most damaging (and sometimes quite misleading) ways possible, as he defended his vehicle’s reputation.