Elon Musk Is Missing the Point

With the reputation of his electric car at stake, Tesla Motors' (NASDAQ: TSLA  ) Elon Musk fired back.

Musk appeared on CNBC yesterday, refuting claims made on Sunday by The New York Times' John Broder, who took a Model S for an extended test drive but stalled between recharging stations.

Musk fired back at allegations that Tesla was overestimating the car's range in cold weather, checking his company's own logs for the car tested. The logs showed that Broder didn't wait for a complete charge at the previous recharging station, drove as much as 10 miles per hour or more above the speed limit, and took an extended detour through Manhattan.

"With all due respect Mr. Musk, who doesn't drive a Tesla faster than the speed limit," CNBC's Bill Griffeth asked, and viewers were probably nodding along in agreement.

It's easy to see why Musk went on the attack. Range anxiety is a big deal for electric cars as potential drivers fret about breaking down between charges. When you consider that the Model S is now being put through its first winter since retail availability -- and how badly Tesla needs affluent Northeastern buyers -- Musk had to attack Broder's credibility before Tesla's reputation takes another blow.

Right now, there's a long waiting list for Model S sedans, and the company was able to push through a recent price increase.

Tesla was challenged last February when a story detailing a bricked Roadster made the rounds, but the market appears to be warming up to the more accessibly priced Model S. Musk can't afford another blow at a time when other makers of electric cars have been struggling. General Motors (NYSE: GM  ) has had to halt production of Chevy Volts a couple of times already, and that's with a unique platform that eliminates range anxiety by switching to a small tank of gas when electric power runs out.

However, Musk may have gone too far in clearing his company's name.

Even if his claims are correct, unless Broder is proven to have an anti-electric agenda, Tesla will suffer from Musk pointing out how they monitor test drive vehicles and how driving a little too fast will drain the battery. Blasting Broder for the detour through Manhattan also seems like a bad idea, implying that Tesla's only made for folks rigidly plotting a course from point A to point B.

Tesla is asking an impractical price for what Musk claims is merely a practical car.

Tesla will likely overcome this incident, but winning over skeptical drivers and what will now be even more jaded reviewers just became that much harder.

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  • Report this Comment On February 12, 2013, at 9:33 PM, KennyO wrote:

    Elon Musk's response implies that Tesla is building cars only for those who drive strictly in accordance with the factory owner manual; who always wait for the car to charge fully, even if it would make them late for an appointment; who never exceed the speed limit; who never deviate from the course they'd set out on. In other words, his target market is a fantasy world.This,however, is a world of people who don't read the book, who forget to plug in the charger when they come home and schelp the groceries into the house, who are perpetually in a hurry, even if they only "keep up with traffic" (thank you for your rhetorical question, Mr. Griffeth) and who make occasionally longer side trips. We, the car buying public, are not trained test drivers operating a vehicle according to a procedure and John Broder's extended test drive reflects pretty well the way that we wealthy but non-technically-inclined riffraff would probably use the car.

    I've no doubt that your car is a good one but until it adapts to our car culture, not vice versa, at your prices you'll get no sympathy from me, Mr. Musk.

  • Report this Comment On February 12, 2013, at 11:40 PM, KhanTak wrote:

    It's amazing that in the history of gas powered cars no-one has ever run out of gas as a result of not filling up the tank when they had the chance but were in a rush or because they took a longer route by choice or by necessity but didn't factor in whether they would need another pitt stop as a result. Its also amazing that you can drive an 8 cylinder gas guzzler exactly the same way you would 3 cylinder gas sipping car and get the same range out of the vehicle.

    Its driving 101 to know how far your vehicle can go on a tank or a charge, how frequently you have to fill up or charge up based on how you drive, where you're going and the route you take.

    Most people have experienced a close call, usually in their early years of driving where they came close to running out of gas or actually did and most learn the lesson well. Driving an all electric is no different, we're just used to the math when it comes to a gas powered vehicle and need to adjust the calculation for an electric vehicle but the principle is the same.

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2013, at 12:58 AM, dannyrobinson wrote:

    As a Tesla Model S owner myself, I can say definitively that the car is extremely "practical".

    I think where Musk is missing the point is that he's trying to claim that the car is specifically designed for long road trips. Even with Superchargers, it's not as convenient as a gas car for long trips. But "practically" speaking, how often do you drive more than 250 miles? Even if your commute is a long one, you're paying much less for the power than it would cost for the gas, and you're not spewing CO2 into the atmosphere in the process.

    It's easy to argue, that in an extreme case (and I'm stretching here to make a point) someone could live in Boston and commute ~200 miles to Manhattan every day. They would park and charge while at work, and drive home all for the same cost as if you commuted from Manhattan to Old Greenwich. And since the majority of electric power in the Boston area is generated by Nuclear, it's mostly CO2 free. And this example doesn't even use Superchargers. http://plugshare.com shows plenty of places to charge your Tesla in Manhattan.

    To be honest, I have a gas car too, but since I've owned my Model S. It sits parked in my driveway. At this point, If I did go on a long road-trip, I would prefer to stop at the supercharger station, and wait an hour, rather than drive my other car. But that's me. I know that the average American will want more convenience during those VERY rare times they actually need to travel more than 250 miles at a time. That market is not Elon's market. The Tesla is designed to be the main day-to-day (practical) car, in a two-car family. Sounds like pretty much everybody I know.

    Not even range anxiety can squash the thrill of driving a car with no gears, full horsepower at any speed, in complete luxurious comfort, and drive past every gas station you see while doing it.

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2013, at 9:52 AM, DWW12 wrote:

    Rick, If you are going to write an article about gas mileage (in this case range) and you don't include where you went 10 miles out of the way and then that you were speeding during your test it might throw your MPG calc off. Ford, GM, Mercedes would all be mad too. Do journalist usually speed when they are trying to return a Toyota MPG rating? Would they go 100MPH in a Prius and expect it to get 50 mpg? Would they then write that it faild and not mention their speed, only that 50mpg was impossible.

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2013, at 3:59 PM, F2JP wrote:

    How many ICE vehicle owner have woken up on a cold morning to find a dead battery and a car that won't start????

    In very cold locations an oil heater has to be added to get ICEs running in the morning.

    No one seems to remember that ICEs have battery failures and are weaker in the cold as well as having a need to fill the tank adequately to make it to the next fuel stop.

    You don't pass by a gas station, run out of gas and blame the car!

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2013, at 4:13 PM, F2JP wrote:

    When someone driving an ICE vehicle on a long trip and makes all of these human decisions;

    1) Goes on a long trip without filling the tank all the way before leaving.

    2) Doesn’t fully fill it at fuel stops.

    3) Neglects to fill it at an overnight stop.

    4) Takes a detour adding extra miles.

    Do we blame the driver or the car when he runs out of gas????

    The New York Times Article was an obvious attempt to sensationalize for the sake of an agenda and ratings at Tesla's expense.

    Clearly Common Sense Did Not Apply……

    This trip was taken at a time when the Supercharger placement was incomplete.

    The addition of more Superchargers between DC and Boston to bring the distance between the closer to 100 miles is scheduled to be completed in a few months.

    I live near DC and I travel to CT a few times a year. I always start with a full tank and refuel when I get near 200 miles. That would get me to CT with plenty of juice to spare in a Model S.

    When I get my Model X, I expect to make that trip many times, for free. I can guarantee you I will never run out of juice.

    The Times Article, This Article, and the Bandwagon Brigade all seem to be a bit desperate.

    The timing, as with all the other short interest desperate attempts to stave off their inevitable losses, tells all. (RE: Bricking, etc.)

    This stunt will only prove to be a blip on Tesla’s path to Success.

  • Report this Comment On March 03, 2013, at 7:55 AM, wildncraz8 wrote:

    If anyone would realize something, a lot of this unknown stuff would go away. First, no one will tell you how much per kilowatt hour it costs to charge an EV...is it as much as a 5-ton air conditioner? Second, we all know that a Nissan Leaf can go 90 miles. But how FEW miles will it travel in 100 degree heat with the air conditioner on?

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