NYT Tesla shows EV flaws

Tesla Model S

Tesla Model SThe New York Times did a Tesla Model S road test recently and the results pretty much solidified the very legitimate fears that people have about electrification of the automobile. It’s called range anxiety and NYT road tester John Broder felt it first-hand and wrote about it in a story on the weekend.

Broder’s task was to drive between two SuperCharger points, around 200 miles apart, and back again after an overnight stay. The 85kWh Model S that he was driving has an EPA-estimated range of 265 miles and a Tesla-rated range of 300 miles. Note that it was cold, so you can drop those figures a little (or a lot, as Broder found out).

You should read the story for yourself at the link, but let’s just say things didn’t turn out as well as either Broder or Elon Musk would have hoped. The car ended up on the back of a flat-bed truck and it wasn’t like the Top Gear test where they deliberately explored the range of the vehicle at max power. This was an exercise where the driver tried desperately to keep the car going, complete with Tesla engineers on the other end of the phone to advise him.

It’s an extraordinary, entertaining and enlightening tale. Go read it now.

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Tesla head-honcho Elon Musk wasn’t happy. He took to Twitter to call the story a fake…

NYTimes article about Tesla range in cold is fake. Vehicle logs tell true story that he didn’t actually charge to max & took a long detour.

…which prompted a response from the NYT, noted at Jalopnik:

The Times’s February 10 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.

Someone’s going to get a slapping at the end of all this.

Of course, even if Elon Musk is correct – that the journalist took a diversion along the route (which the NYT emphatically denies) – who cares? It’s completely beside the point.

Going on a road trip is all about going off the beaten track if you see a sign that catches your eye, a point along the coast you’d like to check out or an unexpected farmer’s market or animal park. Whatever. It’s about FREEDOM. It’s not about going point to point on a prescribed route and shirking deviations along the way.

Some will respond to that with “well, that’s why owners will have a petrol car as well as an electric car”, which is fair enough if you’ve got the money. At $100,000+, however, the Tesla Model S tested by the NYT is one hell of an expensive urban runabout. The whole point behind the 85kWh model is remove range anxiety, not project it.

Tesla’s Supercharging stations will become more commonplace in the US as time moves on and that will make the lives of some early adopters a little easier. Until there’s infrastructure that can charge all EV’s quickly and batteries that can offer ICE-like range, however, you can expect range anxiety to be writ large on the furrowed brow of EV owners on the highway, especially in winter.

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31 Comments

  1. Google Neil Young’s LincVolt project in order to see his solution…. trying to fit a biomass generator into the car to alleviate range anxiety. There are problems currently, but petrol/diesel and the internal combustion engine is most definitely not the future. I applaud companies that are trying to move on to a new propulsion, even though I love the cars of today too.

  2. EVs are doomed, doomed, doomed…

    If I didn’t looked at the fuel gauge (or not even had the slightest idea about the “fill up – drive – keep an eye on consumption – fill up before empty” cycle), then I would probably have range anxiety in my 9-3. As with every new solution that is trying to get into the everyday market, you can’t just give up and call it a fail as soon as something is not working the way you yourself think it should work. But then again, NYT is not really the home of serious journalism anymore.

  3. I’ve called owning an EV ‘Apollo 13-driving’ and I’ll stick to it until they have a starting range of at least 700 km. There are just too many variables that will drain it faster than expected and one of them is temperature.
    Anyone experienced a portable computer claim 100% charged (3 hours of battery power) and 15 minutes later 70% and 1 hours left. Try take it outside in -30 C…

    I wonder if the Tesla would limited to a reasonable 8 seconds 0-100 how far would it go fully charged. People will use up most of the energy on unnecessary low speed acceleration anyway.

  4. On a side note: Tesla(TSLA), in an email response to Investors Business Daily, had their Investor Relations VP announce the company would be releasing their 4th quarter report on February 11th. After this did not happen, Tesla said he made a mistake and the 4th quarter results would be released on February 20th.

    It will be very telling how the company is doing when their numbers are finally released.

      1. Yes. Or much like my own employer, a Japanese multinational, not telling us what our annual plan will be until three-four weeks into that year. It’s amazing that management doesn’t see how much delays themselves communicate to others.

  5. Most electric car write-ups remind me of early automotive coverage. Who will be the first to drive an automobile from NY to LA, Sydney to Perth, Paris to Peking (as it was spelled at the time), or Halifax to Vancouver?
    It’s certainly crossing-over from meme to cliché.

    Other automotive cliché: “90% of SUV owners never take them off road.” When you read that line in the lead paragraph, you know that the rest of the article will contain no original thought.

    All cars will eventually run out of fuel, especially if you try to explore the limits of their range. Living in Canada, you learn to play it safe when taking longer trips in the winter. You never know when weather and/or traffic conditions will change.

  6. I, too, am a huge skeptic of electric vehicles for over-the-road use, and even in town it’s a bit dicey. After all, even if you’re close to a recharge station, the recharge cannot happen in the 3-4 minutes that it takes to fill your Saab 9-5 with gasoline. You’re there for 30-60 minutes depending upon the change source and other factors. Not convenient.

    There are scads of the Nissan Leaf around me since I live only eight miles (15 km) from Nissan’s US HQ. I can’t imagine the compromises.

    I’m not a huge fan of the traditional hybrid, but the plug-in hybrid has potential for me as a consumer. I think that it’s asinine that the technology still uses a traditional engine set up rather than something more efficient like an advanced rotary (not the Wankel) or small turbo diesel. However, the basic setup is workable and practical.

    I read an article just two days ago written about companies that are vulnerable to ‘disruptive competition’, and Tesla was on the list. Their business model places high value on all-electric drive when some other innovation could come along (read: plug-in hybrid, etc.) that is ‘good enough’ for most consumers and they will not have innovated in the same way because they are focused on an innovation of two-three years ago. (By the way, Apple, venture capital and traditional academia were also on the list of vulnerable institutions.)

  7. So in the NYT article, it shows two stops on the first day for nearly 1 hour each for charging the car, which obviously means the car was stationary for all that time, for a trip that would only take 4.5 hours with a petrol/diesel powered vehicle with no stops for fuel. So with an EV you need to budget in very long stops for “refueling” on extended mileage trips? No thanks. Why on earth would anyone want to make multiple 60 minutes stops on a long distance trip in an EV?

    I can fill my Audi S5 from dead empty to full…and make a trip to the loo as well…all in under 5 minutes. I’m heading out on a 7 day, 2000+ mile (3200+ km) trip next month in the Audi. I can only imagine how long it would take me in an EV. The thought boggles my mind.

    I also heard a live interview with Mr. Musk on CNBC TV, in which he not only said the NYT piece was bogus, and they had not followed Tesla’s directions, but had also detoured from the prescribed route, and “had gone 10 mph over the speed limit”. Wasn’t his first vehicle a “sports car”? And I suppose no one ever drives any sports (or otherwise) car over posted limits…do they?

    Excuse me? One is never supposed to drive over the posted limits in his cars? It was quite amusing, however, as the CNBC commentator stopped him after he said that, and said “With all due respect Mr. Musk, but everyone in the NY Metro area drives 10 mph over the limit”. Musk was not amused, and got quite defensive.

    Sorry Elon…your cars…and all the other EVs in the world just may be done before they get a chance to actually become “mainstream” anyway.

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/02/04/us-autos-electric-hydrogen-idUSBRE91304Z20130204

    Looks like the Japanese are having serious second thoughts right now on the future of EVs.

    1. Hydrogen fuel cell cars are also electric cars. The difference is that they use tanks and fuel cells to store electricity instead of using batteries. Hydrogen is generated using electricity, so the total energy used is similar.

      1. Thank you for being the voice of reason. Yes, most fuel cells are actually batteries in practice, the question is just one of how the energy got into the feed stock in the first place.

  8. John M Broder, who usually writes about everything else (oil, energy…) than cars, suddenly turns into a car reviewer…
    NYT own map tells that he drove in speeds far beyond speed limits, and also confirms one detour into Manhattan…
    Tesla is saying Broder did not fully charge the car at least once, and that they have data to confirm this…

    If NYT had written piece about Saab back in the days with so many question marks around it, you would have been all over them. Just sayin’…

    1. Ken, if you read Broder’s article then you’ll see that he documents the trip in plenty of detail, including his time at the charger. Articles about Broder’s article are raising questions but the article itself and NYT’s subsequent defence give me plenty of assurance.

      Let Tesla produce the data and reconcile it to the report in collaboration with the NYT. I look forward to seeing how they’ll convince people that the Model S allows automotive freedom in electric form, but no detours are allowed. I look forward to seeing how they’ll explain having to drive in the winter with the heater off in a $100K car, and how losing two-thirds of your energy overnight is OK.

      I’m not anti-Tesla at all. I think they’ve done remarkable things and the Model S looks fantastic both in metal and in spec. They’ve gone premium, as they should, and they are the undoubted leaders in their field right now. But while Tesla are the undoubted EV leaders, even they’ve got their problems. Serious problems. That’s a long article, a serious piece of work and it just goes to show how tough this business can be, even when you’re doing things better than everyone else.

      There’s a reason the biggest, most experienced and best resourced car companies in the world aren’t putting their eggs in the pure electric basket: the technology and the infrastructure to support it just isn’t there yet and it’s highly questionable whether it ever will be there in a form that will support mass adoption in all markets.

      1. Well, Broder is himself saying he did not charge the batteries to full at the first charge, into which he arrived after a wild 114 miles trip. Thus he arrived with less in the batteries to the charger, and he does not charge to full, even with the real long stretch ahead. Begging for trouble, he was. Ok, makes a better article at least.
        And he parked an EV overnight in cold weather without connecting it, that is equal to not filling gas in a normal car. Just stupid.
        All in all, this was not a test nor a serious attemtp to find out what the car actually can do. It was a cheap shot in Top Gear style.

        1. If a $100k EV tells me “Charging Complete.” I’d believe it. The other thing. He was testing charging stations, no?
          I know numerous situations where you can’t charge the car overnight starting with out with my own parking lot (not even cabin heaters allowed, only block heaters due to weak outlets) so to me there was nothing stupid about the test what so ever. More like real life.

          1. Exactly, RS.

            He was told by the Tesla rep that he could charge beyond the Charging Complete notice, but doing so shortens the life of the battery. If I were testing the car/chargers in real-world conditions, I’d do what an owner would do – listen to the car.

  9. This all starts to go astray. The first step to EVs should have been plug-in hybrids. The second step should have been extensive research into battery chemistry, nanotechnology, etc. Only when the batteries were much more powerful than today (factor of 3-5 in terms of energy density, price and re-charging speed), the third step of developing true EV vehicles should commence.

    Now that the first results of these zero-generation EVs come in, it might ruin optimism and market for a long time. Like the Diesel in the US.

    1. I work for the world’s largest battery manufacturer. The advances that you speak of are a long way off, perhaps as much as ten years or more. Lithium ion is still the best, and it’s what we’ve got for the foreseeable future. It just underscores your point: plug-in hybrid is still the best way to go.

  10. If in an coordinated attempt, 50 billion dollars would be invested in battery research, don’t you think that this would accelerate the whole thing a bit? Sounsd like a lot of money, but it is only 3% of the _yearly_ military budget worldwide (says Wikipedia).

    Where is the political will? Where is the spirit of theAppolo programme gone?

    1. Somebody is lying according to this. Why would Broder stop charging at 72 and especially 28 %?
      If this log is corrects lowering cabin temperature was also fiction.

    2. thanks 900SE,
      these logs prove what I suspected about NYTimes, my first thought that tesla surely tested its vehicles in harder climates than in the NYT-article and thus questions the authors behaviour.
      Tesla has good experience and credible knowledge about its range and establishes a functional network – no need to worry about taking detours, the network is or will be there, as it is with petrol.

      For me a tesla is the next option to saab, but that’s another story, just let’s wait for an established network and continous development of faster-charging battery-technology.

  11. True…actually meant that battery powered EVs were not something that were destined to succede. Fuel cell will surely be the way to go in the future, and perhaps even Hydrogen Internal Combustion engined vehicles…which are already on some roads as test vehicles.

    I have nothing against EVs, they can give mountains of torque, which can translate to great acceleration & performance. Battery EVs won’t make it until they can get a full re-charge in 10-15 minutes…tops. There are folks working on this, and there has been some promising research, but it is still years away.

  12. Are we so few people that have more than one car in the household, and a car that daily drive a relatively short distances, why can not it be an EV?
    Why do so many people still think that the future will consist of a single solution of the vehicle’s propulsion

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