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The Real Problem With Tesla Motors Inc (TSLA)’s Test-Drive Debacle

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Last week, New York Times reporter John Broder decided to give Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA)‘s Model S Sedan a test drive from Washington, DC to Boston. The Times had already conducted a test drive in California last September that was relatively positive. Broder was motivated to give it a shot on the East Coast because Tesla had just installed charging stations that made the trip possible.

The results — sad to say — were not encouraging for Broder. He never made it to Boston.

What went wrong
The Model S Sedan had an estimated 265 miles per charge, and the charging stations were 200 miles apart. In theory, this should have given Broder enough energy to make it safely to each charging station.

In practice, however, it was a different story. The car’s range display began falling quicker than it should have been when entering New Jersey. Attempting to eek out all the miles he could, Broder significantly reduced his speed — he was going 54 miles per hour in a 65 zone — and turned the heat off inside the car. This is especially important to note, as it was around 30 degrees outside at the time.

Given these changes, Broder made it to the second charging station in Milford, Connecticut before running out of juice.

The problems continued, however, that night and into the next day. When Broder parked the car for the night, it said he had 90 miles of range left — which was more than he needed. When he awoke the next morning, however, the range dropped down to 25 — likely due to the cold weather. Eventually, this led to him needing to get towed.

When the story hit the presses, the stock dropped 3%.

Was it really Tesla’s fault?
No sooner had the Times story been published, however, than Tesla CEO Elon Musk had pointed out three errors Broder had committed which made his trip more difficult than it should have been.

Among those errors, which Tesla was able to monitor because of agreed-upon tracking logs of the car’s behavior, were: the car was not fully charged at each station, Broder had gone above the speed limit, and he had entered Manhattan during rush hour.

Bloomberg also published several tweets by Musk, stating: “NYTimes article about Tesla range in cold is fake,” and, “Vehicle logs tell true story that he didn’t actually charge to max & took a long detour.”

In the end, one analyst following the company said the problems were likely due to operator errors in charging the car. It seems to me that the “long detour” Musk referred to was — embarrassingly — when the car had to be towed.

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