Biased Blogging: What's Up with That?

Ricardo Reyes, Vice President of Communications, 5 février 2010

At Tesla we're proud of our Roadster. "Fergus247" put it best in his comment about our recent video, "Imagine if all car companies loved their products this much. Hell, imagine if everyone producing some kind of product loves it like Tesla loves theirs." It's true. I look forward to driving one of our cars every chance I get, and get a thrill every time I'm behind the wheel. I think everyone who can should be driving a Roadster. It's a feeling all of us share at Tesla. So you could say we're biased. That's where car critics come in.

We have one media car, a fully loaded Very Orange Roadster Sport. Nothing but the best for the journalists we entrust to drive and evaluate our product. Often, they appreciate and report on the things that make people love this car. Sometimes they don't. That's fine. We don't expect blindly glowing reviews, but we expect journalists to do their research and write honestly. We believe potential buyers should have honest assessments from credible, third-party sources.

Car and Driver is one such source. It has earned its reputation as one of the most trusted and respected car journals in the world -- a place where self-declared "car guys" can "tell it like it is." It's a place where I go to find the unvarnished truth about many cars. Tesla has a good history with Car and Driver. West Coast editor Aaron Robinson has spent more time living with the Roadster than almost any journalist. But folks in the Ann Arbor headquarters had not been so lucky. So in December 2009, we reached out to Car and Driver headquarters and offered to let them borrow the Roadster for a week.

Unfortunately, the resulting post by K.C. Colwell is so inaccurate, I felt obligated to present our side of the story. The editor offered to review a list of our complaints, but I believe the very core of the post is so biased that a direct rebuttal from us is necessary.

Before handing the keys over to Colwell for the week, we gave him a one-hour overview of the car. He told us he planned to use the car as a daily driver. We figured a piece about how the Roadster handles daily driving in the middle of the Michigan winter would be a great testament to the durability of the car. We explained many aspects of Roadster ownership, paying particular attention to the points most relevant for daily commuters. We briefly discussed topics like maximizing the driving range by charging and driving the car in "range" mode. However, he explicitly told us he did not plan to take the car on any road trips. Like we do for our owners, we also gave Colwell the name and contact information for a Tesla customer service manager reachable day or night to answer any questions.

We didn't hear from Colwell again until about two weeks after he returned the car. He sent an email saying that he had encountered a "unique" set of circumstances during a road trip he chose to take. We responded asking for more info, and instead found the screed he published the next day. In his post in Car and Driver's blog, "Tesla’s 244-mile Range: What Up With Dat?" Colwell takes us to task for supposedly claiming 244 miles on a single charge. He claims that he departed on his road trip with a full charge and drove conservatively, around 60 mph, and yet he got stranded on his way back. He also advises us to add cruise control to future models.

At Tesla Motors, the emails were flying. His post surprised and worried many of us. The car routinely gets 200 miles per charge and does not experience much if any decrease in range in the winter. So we consulted the trip information our car stores in its firmware. We found that Colwell departed for his trip from Ann Arbor to Saginaw with only 85 percent state of charge. He had charged in "standard" mode, not "range" mode, the preferred mode by customers who have long-distance hauls. Colwell averaged between 70 and 80 mph, and went north of 80 a few times, significantly more aggressive than his claimed 60 mph average. (Some in the office wondered if maybe his speed is what attracted the attention of the trooper he mentions in his piece.) Colwell also claimed to have driven conservatively, but the logs reveal that his energy usage ranged between 300 and 400 Watt-hours per mile (Wh/mi), not conservative by any measure.

Finally, cruise control is a standard feature. The controls are located on the stalk to the left of the steering wheel.

As far as our supposed stated claim on range: range testing for EVs is not yet an exact science, in fact the EPA has in the past (and likely will in the future) made changes to these testing parameters. The 244 miles per charge rating was based on testing parameters determined by the EPA, not Tesla, according to mixed city/highway cycle testing based on typical use patterns for drivers. The EPA test reflects 45 percent highway driving and 55 percent city. A well optioned 2010 Roadster with sticky tires has since been tested for a 236 mile per charge rating.

About a year ago, we explained that like in conventional gas-powered cars, efficiency declines with high speed driving and aggressive acceleration. Colwell set off with a partial charge, drove almost exclusively on the highway, frequently at speeds well over the legal limit, and with snow tires - another detail he omitted from his post. His average of 350 Wh/mi is much higher than the 240 Wh/mi observed during the EPA test. We are also still puzzling as to why Colwell didn't simply plug in the car when he got to his friend's house in Saginaw.

On the bright side, his story demonstrated that electric infrastructure is everywhere. Colwell found a plug at a 7-11 and thanks to the Roadster's on-board charger could have successfully charged there. He later found a plug at a Holiday Inn, without any advanced planning. We're still not sure why Colwell kept his plans from us or why he didn't call us when he ran into trouble. Having just completed our own 3,200-mile trip, we would have been happy to help him find 220 volt outlets on his journey.

Colwell concludes by criticizing the Roadster's price and contrasting it with traditional gas-powered automobiles. Our customers see it a different way. How do you price the feeling you get from driving the world’s only electric sports car, or the satisfaction you feel from contributing to the effort to build affordable EVs, or from belonging to a community of forward-looking pioneers? Those factors are a crucial part of our community's valuation of the Roadster. It’s a shame the author did the opposite of what he told us, reported dishonestly, and ignored the greatest features of the Roadster. At least I warned you that I'm biased.