Thursday, February 14, 2013

NYT Assault on Battery

Elon Musk, the CEO of  Tesla, which manufactures electric cars, is getting testy with the New York Times.

Musk, in interviews with the media and a lengthy post on his website says that a reporter for the Times who wrote a very negative review of the company's "Model S" vehicle failed to follow instructions, failed to charge the car fully, made power-sapping side trips, and drove the car way over posted speed limits.

The Times pretty much disagrees in every respect. They stand by their story which said that the vehicle did not meet its own promises and that the battery failed, requiring the Model S make the last part of its journey on a flatbed truck.

It is not just "he said" vs "she said" however since Tesla published data captured by their onboard computer which seemed to back up some of what they claim.

There are lessons for automotive reporters to be drawn from all the charges and counter charges being thrown around.  These cars record what  you are doing while you report about them.  So making exaggerations about a vehicle's lack of performance is ill-advised.

And a lesson for all reporters -- if he or she is smart -- the interviewee records what they say so they can compare the recording to quotes in your story.  In this case, a computer was watching a NY Times reporter as he drove.

We'll let the engineers sort out the data - but the most astonishing error that Musk reveals is not one by the NYT but by his own staff.  He writes:

We assumed that the reporter would be fair and impartial, as has been our experience with The New York Times, an organization that prides itself on journalistic integrity. As a result, we did not think to read his past articles and were unaware of his outright disdain for electric cars. We were played for a fool and as a result, let down the cause of electric vehicles. For that, I am deeply sorry.
By all accounts, Teslas are extremely complex machines.  We certainly hope they are not built on assumptions. If you assume a reporter will be evenhanded without having read their past writings -- you have no one to blame but yourself if the resulting story turns out to be a lemon.


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