Never shy to take on a major media outlet that has leveled criticism at his products, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk is accusing the New York Times of publishing a “fake” story regarding a lengthy drive of the battery-car start-up’s Model S sedan.
The entrepreneur – who also founded the Space X rocket company – took offense to a report by Times correspondent John Broder who claims he was unable to complete a drive from Washington, D.C. to Boston and had to finish the trip on a flatbed.
Musk told CNBC on Monday that a recent New York Times article claiming that cold weather cuts the mileage on the company's electric car is bogus.
"Essentially, we think the article is a bit of a set up and is unreasonable," Musk said.
During a test drive chronicled in the New York Times article, the charge on the Tesla Model S was not enough to reach the next charging station on his journey up Interstate 95 to Boston. (Watch: Tesla's Big PR Fail)
But Musk told CNBC that after downloading the vehicle logs following the test drive, "it showed in fact (the author) had not charged up to the maximum charge in the car. It's like starting off a drive with a tank that's not full."
And instead of driving to the next Supercharger station to recharge the car, the drive took an extensive detour through Manhattan and drove at speeds which decreased the car's range, Musk said.
“NYTimes article about Tesla range in cold is fake. Vehicle logs tell true story that he didn't actually charge to max & took a long detour,” Musk declared in one of several Tweets he has issued about the Times review.
He also noted that, “Tesla data logging is only turned on with explicit written permission from customers, but after Top Gear BS, we always keep it on for media.”
The Times has meanwhile fired back, issuing a statement that, "Any suggestion that the account was 'fake' is, of course, flatly untrue.”
It added that, "Our reporter followed the instructions he was given in multiple conversations with Tesla personnel. He described the entire drive in the story; there was no unreported detour. And he was never told to plug the car in overnight in cold weather, despite repeated contact with Tesla."
Musk has shown a prickly sensitivity to negative reviews and also filed suit against the popular BBC automotive series, “Top Gear,” when it ran a story claiming Tesla’s earlier Roadster model ran out of juice during testing.
The controversy centers around the new Tesla Model S which went on sale last July. The battery-car maker has introduced three primary versions of the sedan with company-defined ranges of 160, 230 and 300 miles – though the EPA ratings are lower. Until recently, Tesla was producing only the longest-range model.
The test drive was designed to experience not just the Tesla Model S but also the network of so-called Supercharger stations that Tesla is setting up in primary markets. Using 480-volt current, they’re supposed to be able to deliver an approximately 80% charge in about a half hour, a fraction of the time it would normally require using a conventional, so-called Level II 240-volt charging system.
Broder reportedly plugged into Superchargers in Newark, Delaware and Milford, Connecticut. Even so, the veteran NY Times correspondent claims he couldn’t make it to the second charger before running out of power and required a flatbed to get there.
In his series of Tweets, Musk has suggested he will offer other journalists the opportunity to drive the Model S along the same route as the Times. That is leading to a flurry of hand-raising by automotive journalists who have been generally unable to get into the widely discussed battery car even seven months after its introduction.
The lack of availability has made it extremely difficult to confirm Tesla’s claims for range with the Model S – which it contends is significantly greater than for any other battery vehicle now on the road. Other products, such as the Nissan Leaf and Ford Focus EV, deliver less than 100 miles per charge – albeit with significantly smaller battery packs.In fact, spokeswoman Shanna Hendricks again advised TheDetroitBureau.com that, “We are limited by press car availability. We do not have huge fleets like other car makers.”
It remains to be seen what Tesla might do beyond criticizing the Times’ story. It filed suit against the BBC, the producer of Top Gear, only to have the courts toss the maker’s claim out. The same thing happened after Tesla amended its legal claim, the court declaring, that what Top Gear aired was not “defamatory at all, or, if it is, it is not capable of being a sufficiently serious defamatory meaning to constitute a real and substantial tort."
CNBC contributed to this story.