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.