Has Tesla's Feud with the New York Times Damaged the Electric Car Industry?

Smart Fortwo ED
Smart Fortwo ED

If you have any interest in electric vehicles, you will likely be fully aware of the ongoing dispute between Tesla and the New York Times. The dispute surrounds a test drive of the Tesla Model S Sedan, with the intention of driving between two quick charging stations (one in Delaware and one in Connecticut) to show the benefits of the Tesla electric car. It is not unfair to say that the whole episode has been a public relations disaster for Tesla and the longer the dispute with the New York Times goes on, the more damage this does to the electric car industry.

Why is there controversy?

There are two very different sides to the story with regards to this particular issue with Tesla suggesting that the journalist John Broder ignored the advice given by the company when looking to get the best out of the vehicle. The journalist himself claims that the car was driven in a traditional manner and his report of various alleged mishaps was accurate and trustworthy.

The report from the New York Times journalist suggested that the vehicle ran out of power between the two charging stations, lost charge a lot faster than expected and indeed during the journey he was forced to switch off a variety of in-car accessories. In what is perhaps a godsend for a journalist, the car allegedly eventually ran out of power and the journalist and the Tesla Model S Sedan had to be transported to the second quick charging station on the back of a flatbed tow truck.

Why is Tesla pursuing the New York Times?

There is every chance that this fallout could end up in the law courts, with Tesla Motors determined to protect its reputation within the electric car industry. The company has promised to issue a variety of logs from the vehicle in question which the company says will prove its side of the story is correct. The fact that Tesla's CEO Elon Musk has yet to release this data, days after suggesting he would do, does not exactly strengthen the argument of Tesla.

One factor which has come to light over the last few days is that the journalist in question, John Broder, had previously written a number of articles expressing his scepticism of the electric car market. From a public relations point of view, the Tesla management team are looking to suggest that this test drive was in many ways doomed to failure from a journalistic and a review angle before it even began.

Has Tesla damaged the reputation of the electric car industry?

There is no doubt that this ongoing feud has been food for the tabloid press around the world and indeed it has reached all corners of the globe. Many people will see the headline suggesting that the Tesla Model S Sedan was not as economical or reliable as expected and many may not even read the full article to find out the conflicting views. As a consequence, the very negative headlines which follow the story could have a detrimental impact upon, not only Tesla Motors, but also the electric car industry in the short term.

In many ways this is a perfect example of the challenges which the electric car industry faces as it moves to a new level and looks to crack the mass market. There are many people, both journalists and individuals, who are particularly negative on the electric car market and any chance they have to talk down the industry will be readily accepted. That is not to say that either the journalist review of the debacle or that put forward by Tesla Motors are incorrect but the fact is that the actual details of the test drive are becoming more and more irrelevant as more and more damage is done to the industry.

Conclusion

In many ways this has turned into a public relations nightmare for Tesla Motors and indeed Tesla CEO Elon Musk has certainly made this headline news by becoming personally involved. The company has promised to issue various logs associated with the journey, although the fact they have not been released as yet is feeding conspiracy theories and concerns about the electric car industry.

Once all of the facts, cold hard facts, are out in the open then we can review the situation in more detail and see exactly what happened. The longer the situation drags on, the more damage this will do and even if Tesla Motors is proved to be correct, this will have little impact on public opinion. This is an industry which time and time again has shown the ability to shoot itself in the foot and unfortunately Tesla Motors has been feeding what would normally be a one-day wonder to become a worldwide headline grabber.