What Tesla Wants a Model S Test Drive to Look Like

Elon Musk likes CNN's new telling a lot better than the one from The New York Times — perhaps because CNN followed Tesla's exact guidelines instead of, you know, going for a road trip.

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While it won't exactly end the battle between Tesla and The New York Times, CNN set out for a controlled debunking of sorts, along the same Model S route from Washington to Boston that started this whole hypercharged fight in the first place. The ride went swimmingly: "In the end, I made it," writes CNN/Money's Peter Valdes-Dapena, adding, rather smugly, that "it wasn't that hard." Elon Musk, of course, likes this telling a lot better than the one from John Broder at the Times — perhaps because CNN followed Tesla's exact guidelines instead of going on a road trip. Tesla CEO's retweeted photo evidence that the car had reached Boston, along with this caption: "We made it!! 1am, but here! @TeslaMotors S made it with @PeterDrives + @jerharlancnn 96 miles to spare!" Musk then wondered: "How can @CNN drive even further than Broder (normal speed & temp) and arrive with range to spare?"

Well, to get nitpicky, the CNN drive didn't exactly duplicate the Times test. And while CNN's review establishes that the Model S can, in fact, make the straight-shot trip up the East coast with the two supercharging stations 200 miles apart, it still doesn't prove that Broder intentionally botched his trek to make Tesla look bad. Indeed, Valdes-Dapena drove from D.C. to Boston, stopping at the two charging stations — one in Newark, Delaware; the other in Milford, Connecticut — but CNN's trip has a few key difference from the more controversial one that preceded it. Here's why everything went so well the second time around:

  • Outside temperature: Valdes-Dapena doesn't note the weather on his trip, which was a huge factor in Broder's ride. Broder started his trip on a 30-degree day and ended it on a 10-degree one. Tesla's own people say cold weather can suck out 10 percent of battery life — and even more from the heater. CNN's crew did the road trip yesterday, per the time stamp on the "we made it!" tweet. In D.C. yesterday, temperatures reached nearly 50 degrees, followed by 46 in New York, and 42 in Boston, per Weather.com. 
  • Cruise control: Perhaps learning from Broder's mistakes, the Tesla PR people made sure to tell Valdes-Dapena to use cruise control for the entirety of his trip trip. "I followed Tesla's recommendations and kept the cruise control pegged to between 60 and 65 much of the way," writes Valdes-Dapena. Broder didn't follow these "range maximization guidelines" until he felt like he was losing power fast, putting the cruise control at 54 mph. And at the instructions of a Tesla representative, Broder turned the cruise control off, which he later admited was a mistake. 
  • Temperature settings: Again, per instructions from the Tesla PR people, Valdes-Dapena didn't fiddle with the heat. Broder only put the heat to "low" once he started panicking. He also later admitted that he switched it from cool to warm throughout the trip to "compromise between comfort and battery." 
  • Overnight trip: Broder spent the night in Groton, Connecticut, after which he contends a night in the freezing cold sucked 65 miles of power out of his car. Valdes-Dapena, on the other hand, writes: "I minimized stops," again because of Tesla's recommendations. It was only after Broder's overnight stay that the Model S seems to have shut down. 

In other words, CNN's trip took place in a Tesla controlled PR bubble. Yes, it proves the car can do the coastal trek. But it doesn't mean that Broder did everything in his power to sabotage the trip. Nor does it signal much for consumers. Some people spending $100,000 on a car might not want to drive it up the coast without going above 65 miles per hour or, on a particularly bitter day, turning the heat up. Plus, Valdes-Dapena ultimately reaches the same conclusion as Broder: "Looking back on the trip, it would be even easier if Tesla would install one of their fast-charging Superchargers along the New Jersey Turnpike."

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