Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Much ado about a Tesla

Article first published as Much Ado About a Tesla on Technorati.

After 2 weeks it seems everyone has an opinion on why New York Times journalist John M Broder had such a disappointing experience with the Tesla Model S.  From his original article it appeared that the car of the future wasn't quite ready for primetime in spite of claims to the contrary and 13,000 pre-orders for the model.

Broder's extended test drive was meant to simulate a long distance road trip to measure the practicality of the car with a focus on "future" charging stations.  What he found was a vehicle and an infrastructure  unprepared for "the real world."  A reality underscored by woefully inadequate vehicle support and a mileage range that was overly optimistic at best.  Broder wasn't aware, for example, that the Model S batteries could lose most of their charge in cold temperatures.  An event Broder experienced during his  trip. 

Shortly after Broder published his misadventures with the car, Tesla's CEO Elon Musk shot back on the company's blog accusing  Broder of  improperly operating  the car.  Musk revealed that the cars detailed data logging showed that Broder appeared to be trying to run the car out of charge and deliberately ignored warning indicators. 

Musk appears to believe Broder has it in for the electric car and cited a previous article of his as proof.  In Musk's blog he quoted Broder,

"Yet the state of the electric car is dismal, the victim of hyped expectations, technological flops, high costs and a hostile political climate."

146032_Stylin' Trucks Brand Logo 120x60Musk again relying on the data logging of the car revealed that Broder had driven the car at the "excessive" speeds of anywhere between 65 and 81 MPH for the majority of the trip with the heater set to 72 F.  Which apparently is unreasonable for a long road trip in middle of a New England winter.

What's been lost in the dust-up is a very real truth.  The all electric vehicle may be part of our motoring future but it's not exclusive to it.  Should Broder have spent a few hours reading the owner's manual and mapped out his route more carefully?  Probably, but just as the superior music quality of the CD lost out to the convenience of the MP3, a successful all electric vehicle will need to be easy to operate.

The excuse of failure because "you didn't use it right" doesn't hold any water anymore.  The "real" world rarely offers up ideal conditions and consumer products need to be able to cope with that fact.  If you claim an average range of 265 miles on a charge but base it on ideal weather and traffic conditions at  50MPH speeds you're not reflecting the "real" world. 

After reading Musk's blog entry I can't help but draw similarities between him and Jimmy Fallon's patronizing Saturday Night Live character of Nick Burns, the computer guy.