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Published on January 1st, 2020 | by Zachary Shahan

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Who Got The Tesla Story Right In The 2010s?

January 1st, 2020 by  


There’s a bit of a problem in much of the media these days. There’s a broad assumption — from both media consumers and members of the media — that media outlets are always supposed to present “two sides of the story.” The problem doesn’t arise when there are indeed two legitimate sides to a discussion. It arises when one side is clearly right and the other one clearly wrong. To give equal weight to a correct argument and an incorrect argument and “leave readers to decide” is unhelpful, and can even be harmful for society.

It’s like publishing the viewpoint that it’s bad to get burnt and the viewpoint that being burnt by fire is actually fine and can make your skin stronger, and then leaving it up to readers to figure out what’s true. This sounds ridiculous since we all know you don’t want to get burnt, but this happens when it comes to other more complicated topics in real life (like climate change, political matters I’m not going to go into here, and other political matters I’m not going to go into here). The term for this problem, logically, is “false balance.”

Even worse than false balance, though, is if you give much more weight to the false arguments. Unfortunately, that’s also a thing. In fact, it’s a tactic that is always used when turning democracies into dictatorships — but, again, we’re not going to go there today. More or less, this is a problem we have probably incorporated into our own lives in various ways, somehow falling for and sticking to incorrect assumptions about a variety of topics, and maybe even spreading them to others. The challenge for any mere mortal comes when we are bombarded with false information over and over again. If you are told every single day by a source you trust that the sky is actually yellow, you may even end up believing that and questioning your own eyes. Much more subtle than that hard-to-believe example, we absorb information routinely from sources we trust that’s just plain false.

That leads us to Tesla. CleanTechnica gets a bit of shit for being “biased” when it comes to Tesla. We are certainly pro-cleantech (because it’s critical to the future of human society), and Tesla is a cleantech company, so we’d like to see it succeed. But it’s not helpful in any real sense to report misinformation or incomplete information to make Tesla look good if it’s not — the truth would come out anyway. It wouldn’t be helpful for us or others to be illogically biased, with regards to Tesla, Elon Musk, or anyone else. So, we do try to bias ourselves toward the truth, and toward providing the most complete context possible. Our genuine expectations for the future are built into stories in many cases, but we just try to make it clear when these expectations are built on certain assumptions or opinions. In the case of Tesla, the problem is that there’s just a ton of nonsense out there, so we regularly work to counter that nonsense in order to provide a more balanced view of the company for society.

It seems that every time I talk to a stranger about Tesla (that is, someone who didn’t come up to me with a smile on their face simply to talk about our Tesla Model 3), they bring up battery fires, Autopilot (often in a negative way), a supposed “druggie” CEO, or the possibility of the company going bankrupt — or some combination of those. The problem with those thoughts being so common are that gas cars are much more of a fire risk than Teslas, Autopilot improves human safety (and bird and animal safety for that matter), Elon Musk isn’t a druggie (as far as I can tell), and Tesla isn’t going bankrupt. Those are just the topics that have seeped through to the common man the most, though. There are countless individual stories misleading the public on Tesla. Being in the business we’re in, and Tesla being such a prominent cleantech company, we spend a lot of time trying to set the record straight and trying to put important news in better context — which I guess makes us look “biased.”

(By the way, if this site was called FireTechnica and there was a lot of misinformation in the media about whether fire is really a risk to humans, we’d spend a lot of time trying to explain to people that fire is harmful and that it’s sort of important to not start fires.)

Perhaps the best way to consider the topic is to look back in time and consider who got the story of what was to come more right in retrospect. Let’s roll through some Tesla history, consider how “balanced” coverage reported on that topic versus how we did so, and reflect on how things turned out. As a simple preview question, think about this: Would CleanTechnica coverage of Tesla this past decade have been more useful and accurate if we had routinely interviewed or quoted Tesla skeptics and critics?

Tesla Model S (2011–2013)

Expert after expert after expert, often referenced in other media outlets: Can’t be produced with the specs and price that Tesla indicates. Tesla doesn’t have the money or production capability to get this vehicle to market — it will go bankrupt trying to get it to market mass produce it.

Demand is limited and will die off quickly, which means Tesla will go bankrupt. Who’s going to want a car with a giant touchscreen in the middle? Few consumers want an electric car. Plus, range anxiety.

Okay, it’s a cool and fun car getting a lot of great reviews and buyers love it, but demand is falling off now and Tesla is running out of money and is going to die. Fun time is over.

CleanTechnica:

Supercharging (2013–2016)

Other media outlets: Range anxiety, range anxiety, range anxiety. Oh yeah, and range anxiety. Also, Tesla can’t afford to roll out a large network of high-power chargers. And once in a while one of the stories like the ones highlighted below.

CleanTechnica:

Tesla Model X (2013–2016)

Expert after expert, often referenced in other media outlets: Tesla can’t build this. This vehicle can’t be mass produced. Tesla is going to crash and burn trying to produce the Model X. All signs indicate corporate collapse due to this crazy SUV. Okay, maybe there was some good stuff, too. We’ll try to dig some of that up via good old Google for a future article.

CleanTechnica:

  • March 2013: Tesla Model X production pushed back because of how popular the Model S is.
  • April 2013: “Elon mentioned that they are working hard on Model X product development and making it even better than the demonstration prototype that was already unveiled to the public. He said he’s spending a lot of time on the Model X, trying to get the details right.”
  • Tesla plans a S-E-X-Y revolution.
  • November 2014: “The news from Tesla’s quarterly financials call last night that seems to be biggest is that the Model X is being delayed again. This seems to be the 4th time. The reason given is that Tesla is trying to make it close to perfect, and that is causing delays. It is now supposed to be hitting the market in Q3 2015, a good 2+ years after the initial launch time.” In Elon’s own words (which echo what he’s said several times before): “Demand is not our issue. Production is our issue. And being too perfectionist about future products. Those are legitimate things to be concerned about, but not demand. We have more demand than we can really address. And there are a lot of things, levers, that we could pull to increase that demand, that we’re not pulling.” Incidentally, nearly 90% of CleanTechnica survey respondents indicate they think the delay is a good thing.
  • December 2014: Model X looks like it will be very competitive in its class.
  • June 2015: Tesla Model X production line uses 3-4× more robots than Model S production line.
  • July 2015: Tesla Model X reservations = ~24,000, about twice what Model S reservations were.
  • August 2015: “X production looks like it might present more challenges than previously anticipated, particularly due to supply chain issues. As Elon has stated a few times, you can’t ship a car if it is missing a part or two. … Model X launch is still set for September. Configuration should begin in 2–3 weeks, and it will be live on the website by the end of August.”
  • Model X arrives, is quicker than Porsche Cayenne Turbo … and every other SUV in history.
  • November 2015: Tesla Model X base price of $80,000 announced.
  • December 2015: Model X production kicks into high gear, Signature Series deliveries begin.
  • December 2015: I explain how Tesla’s super secret master plan is coming to life.
  • January 2016: I find out that Akon already has two Model Xs, and has gotten rid of dozens of cars because his Teslas are so much better.
  • January 2016: We report on the causes of Model X production delays.
  • January 2016: Model X wins CleanTechnica‘s first Car of the Year award.
  • March/April 2016: Per our test drives, Kyle and I think the Model X is amazing.





Tesla Model 3 (2013–Today)

Expert after expert, often referenced in other media outlets: Hehe, Tesla cannot mass produce cars on this scale. It’s impossible to build an electric car at this price with these specs. Also, by the way, Tesla will go bankrupt trying. Repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat.

CleanTechnica: Yes, we basically covered what Tesla targeted, since CEO Elon Musk seemed to be an honest guy with a good track record of doing what he said he’d do, even if sometimes a bit late (which we took into account).

Tesla search trend vs BMW, Audi, VW

I could also run through commentary and news coverage about Tesla Gigafactory 1, Tesla Gigafactory 3, Tesla Autopilot, and much more, but the story is generally the same on each topic. I think the above accounting gives a complete enough picture of the point. How did we cover Tesla? Instead of nonsensical bothsiderism and extensive quoting of Tesla critics (including Tesla short sellers), we reported on what the company was actually doing and also conducted our own analyses to add to the story and help predict the future, analyses which often turned out to be accurate and helpful. No, we didn’t get everything right (production hell went longer than expected, for example), but I think we covered Tesla in as comprehensively truthful a way as any other media site out there from 2011 to today, January 1, 2020.

Just one more flashback, from 2015/2016: CleanTechnica readers expected “EV Revolution” would really hit in 2020. More specifically, one third of them expected EV sales to make up 10% of US auto sales in at least one month this year. We’ll see how that expectation turns out.

Additionally, we now have to think about the next 10 years. What’s to come for Tesla?

 
 

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA] — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in this company and feels like it is a good cleantech company to invest in. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort on Tesla or any other company.



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