New York Times hits back at Tesla Motors over fakery accusations

"His broadest charge is that I consciously set out to sabotage the test. That is not so."

The New York Times' John Broder has responded to the claims of Tesla chair Elon Musk which accused him of deliberately driving the Tesla Model S in a way which would limit the range out of a desire to write a piece slating it.

Broder's response is a methodical breakdown of each of Musk's points. Broder details things like the timing of his decision to turn down the temperature, the reason why he drove for half a mile in a service station, and the nature of his "detour" through lower Manhattan. The vast majority of his rebuttals are convincing, and only one of the minor discrepancies remains outstanding — the question of why he says cruise control was set to 54mph when the car's logs show it travelling at 60mph.

The more interesting disagreement is in Broder's explanations of the odd choices he made. Some of them, he explains, were as a result of recommendations made by Tesla staff. For instance, when he set off from one rest stop with only 32 miles of estimated range, despite the next charger being 57 miles away, he says:

It was also Tesla that told me that an hour of charging (at a lower power level) at a public utility in Norwich, Conn., would give me adequate range to reach the Supercharger 61 miles away, even though the car’s range estimator read 32 miles – because, again, I was told that moderate-speed driving would “restore” the battery power lost overnight. That also proved overly optimistic, as I ran out of power about 14 miles shy of the Milford Supercharger and about five miles from the public charging station in East Haven that I was trying to reach.

But with others, we come to the crux of the problem: what is a realistic pattern of use for someone on a long-distance road trip in an electric car? When Broder left the second supercharger, the range estimate told him that he would have enough miles to get to his destination and back without recharging. As it happened, the battery lost charge overnight in the cold weather, and disaster ensued.

Is that a fair pattern of use? Or is it reasonable for Tesla to have expected Broder to be plugged in to the supercharger until it told him "charge complete", which happens at 90 per cent charge? If he had finished charging at each supercharger he plugged in to, it seems unlikely that he would have run out of battery; but then, he also wouldn't have run out of battery if the range estimate had been correct.

On balance, it doesn't seem unreasonable to argue that a real simulation of a long-distance trip in an unfamiliar car would involve charging well in excess of how far you are actually expecting to drive. Broder may not have intended to run the battery flat, but he also didn't make things easy for Tesla. That may be his prerogative as a reviewer, but it also understates the case for the car in real conditions. The downside of a Tesla Model S for most is that you will have to spend a lot more time in charging stations — 45 minutes, rather than 5, to fill up your "tank" — and have to plan a long-distance trip in far more detail than you would for a petrol car. Only if you push it too close to the bone will you actually end up in the situation Broder did.

But while Broder was a harsh, possibly even unfair, critic, he does not appear to have been an untrustworthy one. The NYT's public editor is looking into the matter, but Musk is unlikely to get the apology or retraction he seeks.

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Reflecting on Paris, violent anthems – and living normal lives amid the bullets and bombs

If you believe some reports, normal life will soon be impossible in Paris, London and other European cities. Spare a thought for Nigerians, Iraqis, Lebanese, Syrians, Yemenis, Pakistanis, Afghans and numerous others who live daily with the threat of bombings and shootings.

In the wake of mass murder, comparisons may seem otiose and probably also distasteful. But the atrocities in Paris will, I suspect, disturb most Europeans more than the 9/11 atrocities in the US, even though the casualties were many fewer. It is not just that Paris is closer than New York and Washington, DC. The 2001 attacks were on the symbols of US global capitalism and military hegemony. The victims were mostly people working in them. This did not in any way excuse the gang of criminals who carried out the attacks. But it was possible, at least, to comprehend what may have been going through their twisted minds and the minds of those who sponsored and assisted them.

The Paris attacks were different. France, to be sure, is a nuclear-armed capitalist state willing to flex its military muscles according to principles that are not always clear to outsiders. But this was not an attack on its political, military or financial centres. It was on people of various ethnicities and nationalities on a Friday night out, watching football, enjoying a concert, eating, drinking and chatting in restaurants and bars in a city that is famed (admittedly not always justly) for romance, enlightenment and culture. That is what makes these attacks so shocking.

The glamour of Paris no doubt looks very different to the many young French people who, for one reason or another, feel excluded from its delights. That may turn out to be a clue to the motives of some who carried out the atrocities. But then again, it may not. We are in territory almost beyond comprehension. If the aerial bombing and, at home, the draconian security measures to which governments immediately resort after such events are wrong, so are glib attempts to explain what drives men to kill indiscriminately. This is a time to think, reflect and mourn.


Everyday killings

One thing we could reflect on is that Europeans are not the only people who try to enjoy ordinary pleasures only to find them disrupted by terrorism. In September this year, 145 were killed in multiple attacks in Maiduguri and Monguno, north-eastern Nigeria. The targets included a market, a mosque and a football match. In June, 146 were killed in Kobane, Syria. In April, 148 died at a university college in Kenya. In March, 137 were killed by suicide bombers in Sana’a, Yemen. On the same day as the Paris attacks, more than 18 died in Baghdad, a city that, if you include nearby satellite towns, has suffered several hundred deaths from at least 15 separate terrorist attacks this year. The previous day, terrorists in Beirut claimed 43 lives. It would have been many more, had a 32-year-old father, out with his daughter, not sacrificed his life by throwing himself at one of two suicide bombers.

If you believe some reports, normal life will soon be impossible in Paris, London and other European cities. Spare a thought for Nigerians, Iraqis, Lebanese, Syrians, Yemenis, Pakistanis, Afghans and numerous others who live daily with the threat of bombings and shootings. They try to lead normal lives, too.


Pianos for peace

Perhaps we should also reflect on the use of national anthems to show sympathy and solidarity with countries that suffer terrorist attacks. The trouble with national anthems is that most are embarrassingly bad.

The music for the British anthem seems to me better suited to the death march of a snail and the words are relatively bland, if you ignore the verse about crushing the Scots. If the fourth verse only were sung (“Lord make the nations see/That men should brothers be/And form one family/The wide world over”), even Jeremy Corbyn might give it full voice.

The Marseillaise, by contrast, has stirring music but its lyrics were written in 1792 as the French Revolution was threatened by invading armies. The image of fierce soldiers coming to cut throats and the call to arms so that impure blood can “abreuve nos sillons” (“water our furrows”) may seem just the ticket for someone like Nigel Farage but not for me. Instead of inviting England’s football fans – some of whom don’t need encouragement to shed impure blood – to sing it at Wembley, the FA may have been better advised to hire the man who took his piano to play John Lennon’s “Imagine” outside the Bataclan concert hall in Paris.


Lost the plot

One more thing for reflection. The Daily Mail reports: “Police are investigating a staggering 600 terrorist plots against Britain.” Much further down the story, it emerges that, according to a senior Metropolitan Police officer, they are “running about 600 separate counterterrorist investigations”. That is not the same as “600 plots”, even if one believes police figures, which probably count checking an anonymous claim that the Muslims next door look a bit threatening as “a counterterrorism investigation”. If alarm increases to hysterical levels – and particularly if it leads to the harassment of British Asians – the terrorists will win.


The Lady and the baton

Plop! On to my doormat drops the usual free copy of the monthly magazine Standpoint, which is always well ahead in warning of Muslim hordes about to overrun us. My eye is caught by Paul Johnson’s review of the second volume of Charles Moore’s Thatcher biography. Johnson – a former NS editor but long lost to the right – tries to defend the Iron Lady from charges of philistinism. What rot, cries Johnson. She lunched with the great conductor Herbert von Karajan in Austria in 1984. “She plunged in straight away with a question about how to run an orchestra . . . How do you control an orchestra – by force of will or persuasion? Is a conductor necessary?”

One is reminded of the great cellist who gave young people a masterclass on the techniques and pleasures of playing the instrument. When he invited questions, a hand shot up: “How much did you pay for your cello?” 

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 19 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The age of terror