Data does the dirty work as Tesla takes it to the Times

Tesla escalates its battle with the New York Times, but the carmaker's data dump raises as many questions as answers

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There are some things Musk's data doesn't show. It doesn't show what was going on inside the car, for example. It doesn't show the messages Broder was seeing on the Tesla's 17-inch touchscreen dashboard. It doesn't include what Broder was told by various technicians at Tesla, whom he contacted a dozen times during his nightmare ride. Some bloggers have called upon Musk to release all the data Tesla collected about the ride, so people can judge for themselves. At the time I write this, that has yet to happen. (I also have hard deadlines on Fridays.)

Broder made other points in his original review Musk did not address. Why did the car apparently lose a significant percentage of its charge while sitting idle overnight? Is that what all Tesla owners should expect? Why, when the Model S's battery is completely drained, is it impossible to release the emergency brake, making it difficult to tow at precisely the moment it needs one? Musk's post says nothing about any of that.

The Atlantic Wire's Rebecca Greenfield has a close reading of Musk's data and how it relates to Broder's review -- worth checking out, if you haven't already had enough of this story.

Yes, the contradictions between Musk's data and Broder's story are troubling. But remember, the man was driving. It's hard to take precise notes on what your car is doing while you're negotiating I-95 in winter weather. (Computer logs don't have this problem.) If I were his editor at the New York Times, I'd make a point to ensure that the next time one of my writers goes for a test-drive, he or she brings along someone else to take notes and capture video.

Time's Brian Walsh sums it up nicely:

In a gasoline-powered world, it's not reasonable today to expect an electric car to operate in the same way as a gasoline-powered car -- just as it's not reasonable for Tesla to expect drivers to change their behavior to fit a new technology. Broder made it clear to me at least in his review that he was trying to test out his Tesla S in real-world conditions -- and real-world drivers won't always follow the rules to the letter. Think of all the work tech companies like Apple have put into making their gadgets essentially idiot-proof. Tesla doesn't seem to be there yet.

As I like to put it, if people have to read the manual to figure out the basic functions of your product -- like how to charge it -- you have failed. Only engineers enjoy reading manuals. If that's your intended audience, then great. If you want to reach the broader public, you need to make it a whole lot simpler.

Going from bad to worse

Both sides could debate this until the end of time and probably never agree about happened in that car. But the bottom line is that by accusing the Times reviewer of deliberately sabotaging his review just so he could write a negative story about his product, Musk made the situation far worse for himself and his wondercar. Had he merely accused The Times of being not entirely accurate and addressed the claims he felt were misleading, we wouldn't be talking about this right now. The bad review would eventually fade from memory. Now it won't.

That was my larger point, which seems to have gotten lost in the discussion of charge percentages. Musk is reacting to this review like a schoolyard bully, egged on by hordes of supporters. Is that any way to run a car company?

I'll ask this again, since nobody bothered to answer it the first time: Given what you now know, would you still buy a Tesla Model S, if you could afford one? (FYI, my answer is yes.) Post your thoughts below or email me: cringe@infoworld.com.

This article, "Data does the dirty work as Tesla takes it to the Times," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

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