In December 2008 an episode of Top Gear aired which reviewed and tested the Tesla Roadster. It was not a favourable segment, which is hardly surprising if you’ve ever watched Top Gear and know their style of ‘reporting’. Tesla were not happy with what was shown in the episode and this was followed by a protracted 3 year libel battle that finally came to an end earlier this month - in favour of Top Gear.
Last month a review of the new Model S was published by the New York Times, after the writer John Broder attempted to drive down the East coast using Tesla’s new Supercharge Network (this is Tesla’s network of charging stations that charge half the battery in around 30 minutes). The title of the article ‘Stalled Out on Tesla’s Electric Highway’ and the first image used in the article (Broder next to a Model S being unloaded from a flatbed truck) should give you an idea regarding the content of the article.
Although the two incidents are not linked directly, they are interconnected by the fact that Tesla reacted to these reviews in a public fashion, as they both attacked the associated weakness of electric cars - their range and battery.
Urban myths are easy to create and take a lot of effort to dispel. In the case of Tesla, this could be the difference of continuing in business or folding the company. As a company they have set themselves ambitious targets that they need to deliver on to remain in business. The product that they are creating, while no longer something completely for the early adopter, isn’t exactly mainstream either.
If I’m in the market for a sedan, that’s also an electric vehicle, what are my options? Currently, apart from the Tesla Model S, there is none. If you’re looking for a tiny city car, there are plenty of options for that. They’re in a funny position, where they’ve shown that they are capable of creating something special and yet because they are so ahead of the competition, consumers can’t help but think that it’s too good to be true - there must be a catch somewhere.
Tesla are giving you the future, now, here, today. In a year’s time, the plan is to introduce the Model X, an SUV. Volkswagen, one of the worlds largest manufacturers is considering to make an electric version of the Golf sometime in the future. Disruption happens when you’re not paying attention.
Musk himself responded to Broder’s article. They learnt from the Top Gear experience and made sure to keep track of their car when it was being tested and then reviewed.
I don’t believe however that Musk’s followup post was particularly helpful. For one thing, there was no link to the New York Times article sited in the post. A little bit of digging and you can find it easily. It’s not the New York Time’s stance per say, but rather the single voice of one writer (much in the same vein as the original article that started this whole incedent). The Atlantic Wire has a point by point breakdown of Musk’s article and Broder’s rebuttal. A more useful road test was carried out by CNN, which concluded somewhat differently to Broder.
Some might see the legal action against Top Gear and the rebuff of the New York Times article as overly defensive. I think this is a natural reaction for a company in Tesla’s position and with their aspirations. Tesla is trying to change the consumer market for cars, moving them away from fossil fuels to electric power. As the biggest electric only vehicle manufacturer it’s clear that they feel it’s their duty to defend this nascent industry.
We were played for a fool and as a result, let down the cause of electric vehicles. For that, I am deeply sorry.
- Elon Musk
Detractors against the electric car are legion. They’re typically called ‘Petrolheads’. I’m not a Petrolhead, but rather a fan of good looking, incredible engineered, facetiously detailed cars. Petrol will hopefully no longer be relevant and neither will range; in the very near future (as battery technology advances), this topic won’t even be mentioned, except in a positive manner.