Tesla/NY Times Factual Dispute Reveals Different Truth

Over the past few days, a debate has unfolded between the start-up electric vehicle company, Telsa, and the New York Times on the subject of a test drive that ended with the car running out of juice. Telsa has released data logs that undercut the reporter’s account, the newspaper is standing by the story, and a group of Tesla owners is hitting the road to prove the Times wrong. Putting the unfortunate dispute aside, there’s a few lessons to be learned. As with any new technology, there’s a learning curve, but the fact is drivers of all-electric cars quickly become accustomed to their vehicle’s limitations and strengths, and are amongst the most satisfied owners on the road.

Firstly, it’s worth noting that the majority of plug-in cars today are plug-in hybrids, whose drivers have no range limitations at all. If you want one car to do it all, a plug-in hybrid like the Chevy Volt, Toyota Plug-in Prius, Honda Accord Plug-in, Ford Fusion Energi, or Ford C-Max Energi, is a great option. For your daily driving needs, you can drive on electricity, a cleaner fuel, at a price that’s equivalent to driving on buck-a-gallon gasoline, and after you’ve gone beyond the all-electric range, the car operates as an efficient gasoline hybrid.

Most all-electrics, such as the Nissan Leaf, Ford Focus EV, Mitsubishi-i, BMW Active-E, Fiat 500 EV, Coda, Chevy Spark EV, or Honda Fit EV, have ranges between 60 and 100 miles. Most households in America have multiple vehicles. An all-electric is perfect for the daily commuter, providing significant savings relative to gasoline and the convenience of refueling at home. When it comes time to go to Grandma’s on the weekend, you can always take the other car.

Tesla_ModelS

The Tesla Model S offers range, luxury and performance without gasoline

The all-electric Telsa Model S, Motortrend Car of the Year, comes in packages that offer EPA certified ranges between 208 and 265 miles. Regardless of your view on the dispute between the New York Times and Tesla, it’s clear the reporter behind the wheel was not accustomed to the vehicle’s technology. There’s an important difference between taking a car on a test drive and taking one home.

Researchers from UC Davis found that drivers who leased an all-electric version of the Mini Cooper for a year quickly progressed through a discovery phase, in which they became accustomed to the car’s range, rapid acceleration, sporty handling, and regenerative braking that allows for “one-pedal” driving. After living with the cars, every participant in the study reported that electric vehicles are suitable for daily use.

Those findings jive with similar research done on the other side of the pond. After three months, 95% of drivers participating in a field trial in the UK found that all-electric cars were just as easy to use as gasoline cars. Likewise, during the course of those three months, drivers became much more confident exploring the limits of the car’s range.

Beyond academia, there’s clear evidence that those who buy electric cars are happy with their decisions. The all-electric Nissan Leaf and plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt rank at the top of Consumer Report’s Owner Satisfaction Survey, with the Volt taking first prize for the last two years.

My parents just bought their first smart phones. I’ve had to act as tech support a few times as they explore a device that can do almost anything, but they’re learning quickly and they didn’t grasp for rotary phones the first time something went wrong. They love the things and can’t imagine how they ever lived without them. Ask an electric car owner, and you’ll get a similar story. In fact, if you go to drivingelectric.org, you can ask an owner near you any question you’d like and even take a spin in a plug-in.

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About Author: Max Baumhefner

Max Baumhefner is a Sustainable Energy Fellow with NRDC. He is an attorney, outdoor enthusiast, and environmentalist. His focus is the juncture of the electricity and transportation sectors. More of his posts at can be found at NRDC's Switchboard: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/mbaumhefner/