Tesla Motors vs John Broder

A blog about business and economics.
Feb. 14 2013 9:51 AM

Tesla Motors vs John Broder

Imagine if 70 percent of Americans commuted to work using electric cars, but then new internal combustion engine technology came along that made driving much cheaper and could liberate another 15 percent of the population from reliance on buses. Well, it'd face some daunting obstacles. Sure, you could buy a bunch of gasoline to store in your garage to refill the vehicle at night but not everyone who owns a car has a garage. What's more, even though on the typical day you're just driving to and from work a big part of the appeal of homeownership is freedom. With an electric car, you and your family could just drive off to Toledo or Charleston or wherever on a moment's notice and stop at a charging station whenever you need to power up. With a gasoline-powered care you have a range anxiety problem. Of course if lots of people already owned gasoline-fueld cars, we might have a nationwide network of gasoline depots at which it was possible to refill with all the convenience of a plug-in station. But you can't get the chicken without the egg and you can't get the egg without the chicken.

Which is exactly why Tesla Motors is so eager to publicize its early deployment of a handful of state-of-the-art charging stations in key coastal corridors to make the case that you can drive all up-and-down without a worry. If you can get a critical mass of early adopters excited about that limited set of existing infrastructure, you build momentum for more infrastructure and more electric cars. So John Broder's nightmare story in The New York Times of misleading energy counts, freezing temperatures, and ending up stranded on the roadside is a disaster for Tesla. Except Tesla says they put equipment in the car to monitor driving patterns and charge levels, and according to their data Broder is just lying about what happened. Allegedly he didn't drive the route he said he drove in the article, didn't set the temperature where he said he sent it, didn't charge the car as much as he said he charged it, and didn't go the speeds he said he went. Broder fires back here.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.