Tesla's Elon Musk not happy with NYT road test*

tesla2.jpgThe Model S sedan has been getting stupendous reviews - and for good reason (it's an amazingly smooth - and scarily fast - ride). But the NYT's John Broder had problems on his drive from Washington, D.C. to Connecticut. Cold temperatures apparently cause the electric battery to lose juice at a faster-than-advertised rate.

A Tesla agent brought the car to me in suburban Washington with a full charge, and driving at normal highway speeds I reached the Delaware charging dock with the battery still having roughly half its energy remaining. I went off for lunch at the service plaza, checking occasionally on the car's progress. After 49 minutes, the display read "charge complete," and the estimated available driving distance was 242 miles. Fat city; no attendant and no cost. As I crossed into New Jersey some 15 miles later, I noticed that the estimated range was falling faster than miles were accumulating. At 68 miles since recharging, the range had dropped by 85 miles, and a little mental math told me that reaching Milford would be a stretch.


I began following Tesla's range-maximization guidelines, which meant dispensing with such battery-draining amenities as warming the cabin and keeping up with traffic. I turned the climate control to low -- the temperature was still in the 30s -- and planted myself in the far right lane with the cruise control set at 54 miles per hour (the speed limit is 65). Buicks and 18-wheelers flew past, their drivers staring at the nail-polish-red wondercar with California dealer plates. Nearing New York, I made the first of several calls to Tesla officials about my creeping range anxiety. The woman who had delivered the car told me to turn off the cruise control; company executives later told me that advice was wrong. All the while, my feet were freezing and my knuckles were turning white.

When the car conked out, Broder kept receiving instructions from the Tesla people in California. Finally, a tow truck was brought in, but even that presented problems because the parking brake would not release without battery power and the vehicle had no battery power. Anyway, not the greatest publicity. This morning Musk has been in major tweeting mode. He promises to have a full explanation of what happened later today, but for the moment:


Whatever. The more pressing question (and perhaps a reason behind Musk's irritation) is how many of the $101,000 Model S's are being manufactured. As of last October it was only 200 per week; in order to break even, the number has to be at least 400. From the WSJ:

The company won't say how many cars it has delivered so far, but it planned to have sold about 3,000 by the end of 2012. More than 13,000 people have already paid $5,000 deposits. Tesla, which has posted a loss in every quarter since its initial public offering in 2010, is facing plenty of skeptics. In the third quarter of 2012, it reported a loss of $111 million on revenue of $50 million. The company raised $193 million in an October stock offering. The fourth quarter "is the quarter that they really need to show me the money," said Josh Norman, a senior analyst with Saibus Research, a Boston-based investment-research firm, which doesn't own Tesla shares. "This is the make-or-break quarter."

*Update: Musk pooh-poohs any suggestion that the car doesn't perform as well in the cold. From Bloomberg:

"We have taken great pains to ensure that our car works very well in cold and many Model S and before that, Tesla Roadster customers, in extremely cold climates. In fact, our number one Tesla Roadster owner owns four cars in northern Norway where it is permanent midnight during the winter, incredibly cold, and he uses it as his daily driver. The car is designed to do very well in the cold, and we have an intelligent thermal control system that is able to take heat from the motor into the battery pack and in cold weather will actually close shutters in the front of the car to keep the car insulated. It is actually really good. We have taken great pains to ensure that the car works very well in the cold and that is why we are incensed by this ridiculous article."

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
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