There are only losers in the Tesla Motors v New York Times dispute, guest post by Mark Benson

Despite the fact that all parties involved in the Tesla Motors and New York Times dispute have claimed the upper hand and claimed victory, there are no winners in this hotly disputed disagreement. The situation revolves around a test drive by New York Times journalist John Broder which was covered in great detail by the newspaper, creating a running commentary which has been the centre of attention for many weeks now.

Why the big controversy?

When New York Times journalist John Broder approached Tesla Motors about test driving one of their electric vehicles, in the shape of the popular Tesla Model S Sedan, it seems that the company was more than happy to assist. Indeed such was the initial level of interest from all parties that Tesla Motors gave the journalist specific advice so that he would be able to obtain maximum capacity from the vehicle and maximum journey time. The end result was not expected by any party although there were some unfounded allegations that perhaps the New York Times was looking to downplay the electric car market even before stepping into the vehicle?
The task was simple, drive the vehicle between two quick charging stations, one in Delaware and one in Connecticut, and comment upon the driving experience and performance of the vehicle. What could be more straight forward?

The journey!

John Broder himself drove the vehicle and gave a very downbeat assessment of the overall performance and journey capacity. Indeed he suggested in his article that the car ran out of power between the two charging points, which should have been within the vehicle’s journey capacity, and lost charge much faster than expected. There was also a suggestion that various in-car services had to be curtailed as the battery charge began to wane.

In what many might see as a journalistic dream, the vehicle is alleged to have run out of power and the journey had to be completed on the back of a flatbed tow truck. This was where the fun and games began and accusations and counter accusations flew from all parties involved.

What damage has been done to the industry?

The truth is that the parties involved in this particular dispute will never agree on a variety of different points. There is criticism of the vehicles charging ability, there is criticism of the journalist’s style of driving and in all honesty there is no middle ground. Elon Musk, the chief executive officer of Tesla Motors, refuted various allegations, promised to make public the statistics from the journey although delays and misunderstandings further clouded this situation. Even today the two parties are still in disagreement and indeed Tesla Motors is adamant that the overcritical analysis of the vehicle has cast a shadow over the company with an alleged commercial loss in the region $100 million.

The reality is that whatever the truth in relation to this particular episode there are no winners – only losers. Tesla Motors has been dragged into a situation highly critical of one of its award-winning vehicles, the New York Times has been left open to allegations of rogue journalism and the electric car industry has yet again been hung out to dry. At a point when the electric car industry is making strides forward, but needs some support for the future, this New York Times v Tesla Motors fight has come at exactly the wrong time.

How will this impact the future?

The reality is that we could see one or both of the parties backtrack on various allegations in the short to medium term, publish a full apology and even suggest that the electric car industry has not been tarnished, but it is all too late. This is an industry which has flattered to deceive for in excess of 200 years, this is an industry which has attracted billions of dollars of public and commercial investment of late although in reality this is an industry which does have a future in the car market – albeit with a slower rate of development seemingly likely after this debacle.

We may look back in 12 months time and this particularly sour episode will be forgotten but at this moment in time it is fresh in the minds of consumers who are not exactly being incentivised to acquire electric vehicles!

Conclusion

To those not privy to the inside information, the inside statistics of the journey in question and indeed the “real” views of those involved, this looks nothing but a complete mess. Car enthusiasts are left high and dry and no better off with regards to their understanding of the electric vehicle market. Indeed, if Elon Musk is right then this sad episode has cost his company around $100 million in lost revenue.

You could argue that Tesla Motors added fuel to the fire with various rebuttals of the initial review or you could argue that the New York Times was allegedly looking to ridicule the electric car market. Perhaps the reality is that we have two parties at very different ends of the electric car spectrum having an open disagreement? Whatever the truth, unfortunately yet again, it is the electric car industry which has suffered most.

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