Tesla CEO Elon Musk thinks there’s a right-wing, anti–electric car, New York Times conspiracy that wants to make his company look bad.
You can’t make this stuff up.
The notoriously thin-skinned Musk has been on a personal crusade over the past week to demonize the Times’ John Broder for a negative review the environmental writer filed in a recent Sunday edition of the paper. Tesla’s bullying of media organizations is legendary (this reporter got an earful for his first criticism of Tesla’s Roadster sports car years back). Tesla sued Top Gear for libel over a negative review in 2008. Shooting the messenger isn’t usually a good strategy in the car business. Hasn’t Tesla ever heard of GM vs. Ralph Nader?
But accusing the Times of anti-green bias? One of the country’s most ideologically green media outlets? A paper that ignored Climategate and cheerleads for the green movement with little pretense of objectivity? That employs green disciples from Keith Bradsher to Elisabeth Rosenthal (whose most recent piece was titled, “Your Biggest Carbon Sin May Be Air Travel”)? Seriously? Broder himself is a global warming true-believer and ex-Times’ DC global warming correspondent who now writes reliably green copy here.
But reviewing cars — like sports teams — can be different. No matter your ideology, both products demand competitive results.
No one doubts that Musk makes great vehicles. From the $110k Tesla Roadster to the $100k Model S, they are compelling luxury products. The question is: How do they stack up against equally competent gas-engine technology? Broder’s straightforward review takes Tesla’s premise — that its new Model S sedan (sweetened for purchase by Obama’s $7,500 tax credit for One Percenters) can be driven like a normal car — and puts it to the test.
The Model S fails for well-known reasons — the recharging infrastructure isn’t there, batteries perform poorly in cold weather, and you need a Tesla engineer riding in the back seat to help you navigate the car’s idiosyncrasies. In short, the real news of Broder’s piece is that electrics — as has been the case over 100 years — are still a niche vehicle for city dwellers or the statement-making well-to-do.
Musk doesn’t like that news so he takes a page from the Obama School for Impugning Motives and tries to destroy Broder. The Times’ man neatly parries every criticism here. Will Musk’s intimidation tactics effect Broder (or more likely his editors) in his next review? We’ll see. But the marketplace will continue to be Musk’s greatest challenge.