By on July 9, 2012

Summer is always a slow time in the industry, so what better way to boost traffic than to manufacture a controversy out of thin air about a “third rail” topic like electric cars?

The past week or two has seen Jalopnik take reviewers and Tesla to task over the short drive times offered during the Tesla Model S launch. One of the biggest criticisms leveled at Tesla was that drive times only worked out to around 10 minutes, which, Jalopnik rightly claimed, is not enough time to properly form a driving impression.

What they left out was that press drives, on the whole, aren’t a great place to form real impressions of a car, full stop – but Jalopnik and other outlets do it anyways. This is the precise reason why we offer Take Twos (and sometimes, additional reviews beyond that). I was on the same Hyundai launch as Jalopnik’s Jason Torchinsky, where we reviewed the Elantra GT, Veloster Turbo and Elantra Coupe. Drive times were relatively short (a couple hours, perhaps) on roads that were carefully selected to show off the car’s strong points and minimize its weaknesses. The Coupe was driven only on lazy, mostly straight highways, while the Veloster Turbo and Elantra GT were flogged on the kinds of roads that driving enthusiasts can only dream about. That did’t stop Jalopnik from giving them a “Jalopnik number”, some kind of definitive, transcendent quantification of a vehicle that will forever be enshrined in the annals of automotive history.

Our writers are spread out across the globe (literally), and the diversity of opinions is enhanced by the lack of proximity. A launch in California or Andalusia may be a great place to test out a new droptop sports car; but how will it hold up on the bombed out roads of Detroit, where Michael Karesh lives? Will a hybrid car really provide the kind of fuel efficiency it claims? Let Alex Dykes take it out for a day of stop and go driving in San Francisco. And of course, we have our very own driving ace who needs no introduction.

When I heard about the Model S launch, I sent an inquiry to Tesla Toronto. They gave me the Roadster for a day back in 2010, with the only stipulation being “bring it back before the battery is drained”. Jack did a review of the Roadster for Left Lane News with no restrictions on time or distance. Tesla Toronto’s own Model S demo wouldn’t even be available until August, which is when multi-day tests of the car should be available. So while we weren’t invited to the ultra-exclusive first drive party, we’ll probably get a proper, unrestricted review of the car.

Jalopnik has taken to calling out Dan Neil of the Wall Street Journal, for his positive review of the Model S. Neil is an easy target; not only is he popular, a Pultizer Prize winner and a household name (if there is such a thing in this business) but he also comes across as a pompous, self-abosrbed narcissist, which makes it easy to feel schadenfreude when bad things happen to him. Thankfully, Neil is smart enough to know that he’s having his credibility attacked by an outlet that will literally report on anything in the blind pursuit of traffic numbers. Neil did a masterful job of eviscerating the weak criticism against him, and the responses by the folks at Jalopnik are utterly submissive – leaving no doubt that if the WSJ came calling for any of them, they would all be happy to jump ship and enjoy the kind of lifestyle, adoration and TV deals that come from writing for such an institution and the receipt of a Pulitzer Prize. Like an invite to drive the Tesla Model S.

Couched in all the righteous indignation about journalistic integrity and mis-use of taxpayer dollars is the simple fact that things are slow in the summer, and a fabricated controversy is good for business. It’s even better when it involves topics and people that are polarizing, to the point where one can project their existential angst and childhood issues on to them. So why not try to boost the numbers than by going after a couple of popular, controversial figures, replete with jokes about a supposedly secret same-sex relationship, blowjobs and other mature, dignified prose that we’ve come to expect from the Gawker network (or at least, the during the Ray Wert era). This whole campaign isn’t just a big boost for traffic; it’s the Powerball jackpot. Electric cars, Elon Musk, Dan Neil, self-aggrandizing, vulgar snark. The only thing better would be if a celebrity died and something happened involving cars and female genetalia. Oh wait…

Maybe this is just about personal pride. Press drive invites are often times just a proxy for professional validation. Journalists love to compare notes on what events they got invited to, like adolescents comparing who is wearing the “right” clothing or hairstyle. It’s a frequent topic of complaining here at TTAC, when someone unqualified is invited to an event that is sure to yield a great story, and we’re left out in the cold. Car makers really do use access as a carrot and a stick in exchange for toeing the line. And when you’re more interested in the people and the events rather than the car (like we tend to be), it makes it difficult to do our jobs. Or maybe this is just another “sponsored conversation” guerilla marketing effort that’s part of Gawker’s new revenue model? I don’t know. But I am counting down the days until August.

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18 Comments on “Enough About The Tesla Model S And The Manufactured Controversy Over Reviews...”

  • avatar

    There’s no manufactured controversy. Ten minutes isn’t even enough time for a good test drive, let alone a 600-word “first drive.” Tesla’s tightly managed launch is suspicious and good for at least one source calling them out on it. It’s good journalism, and has been recognized outside of the automotive journalism community as such. And journalists are not like adolescents when comparing notes. Not that TTAC would know good journalism even if it pulled up in a McLaren.

  • avatar

    I just don’t understand your fascination with Jalopnik. Anyone who thinks they’re a news site deserves what they get.

    My opinion that this need to cover this ground is counter to your stated mission of delivering the truth about cars.

  • avatar

    And without the Jalopnik call-out, this article wouldn’t exist.

    It’s amazing how you can cash in on a manufactured crisis while at the same time bemoaning it’s existence. Let’s face it, mindless and puerile sniping between blogs makes up a whole lot of everybody’s “content” nowadays; I’ve lost count of the number of mindless attacks on Ray Wert and Jalopnik in general that have found a place to roost here. Honestly, I would rather read puffy advertorial content like the ongoing LF-A series this week than any of that nonsense. At least the attacks on the print rags have some integrity. When one blogger demeans another, they all wind up
    winning anyway, because it’s all about the clicks.

    The TTAC vs. Ray Wert/Jalopnik/Edmunds/everybody else angle used to play well but now it’s wearing awfully thin.

    • 0 avatar

      Exactly, this story is itself a manufactured controversy no better than what Jalopnik did.

      “It’s a frequent topic of complaining here at TTAC, when someone unqualified is invited to an event that is sure to yield a great story, and we’re left out in the cold.”
      – That pretty much sums it up. Just like the folks at Jalopnik are jealous of the WSJ and thus take silly cheap shots against them, it seems TTAC are jealous of Jalopnik and take silly cheap shots against them.

    • 0 avatar

      Exactly. TTAC is participating in the click frenzy but trying to position themselves above it by taking the “righteous indignation” angle. Well, most of us are wise to it. TTAC is no better than Jalopnik in trying to profit from the controversy, and in a way is worse because they do it while holding their noses at it. Hypocrisy.

      Want to show you’re above Jalopnik’s behavior? Ignore it. We all know the stories by now. Keep sniping at the print rags, as they’ve got a different business model, and unlike blogs, we aren’t privy to a lot of the machinations that go on there. It’s actual news.

      This is the last Jalopnik vs TTAC link I will be clicking. Maybe if we starve the beast…

  • avatar

    Thanks. I’m glad TTAC covered this.

  • avatar

    I guess summer is really slow if the TTAC articles are essentially “Why TTAC is better than Jalopnik.”

  • avatar

    I read this whole article and all of the comments and not a single one was directed towards the chin-beard and hippie necklace sported by Dan Neil in the above photo. And this site purports to truth!

    • 0 avatar

      I did a double take when I saw that. What’s up with that? Even that goofy gold jacket Baruth was wearing a few weeks back pales to Neil’s ridiculous fashion statements.

      Not that I normally pay much attention to men’s fashion statements, it’s just that I really hate Dan Neil.

  • avatar

    I visited my local Tesla dealer to see the Model S. It looks quite cool in the flesh, but there are definitely some build quality deficiencies in the beta cars. Probably not fair to call them out on it since the production car is totally different.

    I will say, though, that I was really impressed by the infotainment system on the 17″ screen. The display was sharp and very high resolution – not quite as good as my Retina Display MacBook Pro, but pretty close especially considering the longer viewing distances.

    The system was incomplete on the beta car, with a lot of things not working, but everything that was done was very polished and smooth. I think people will really love it. Navigation was based on Google Maps, and I was able to find my address and it popped right up, with the expected options. I could get satellite, road and combined view, just like normal Google Maps, and the huge screen really made things easy and fun. Of course one problem is that you will need a continuously operating Internet connection to use it.

    Of course there were no test drives since the beta car was not ready for them, but I was quite impressed by what I saw, and by the friendliness of the sales rep, who spent a lot of time with me. Of course I came in on a weekday afternoon with nobody else present.

    The sales guy tried to convince me to get a test drive by putting down $5,000, but his sales pitch was easy enough to resist, for now, since I don’t know when, if ever, I would actually want to buy the car. I expect it will not be my next car, but it’s at least somewhat likely to be my car-after-next, especially if they can drop the cost of the long battery life by a bit. Hopefully battery technology will improve in the coming years making it more practical.

    I was surprised to see 4-5 Roadsters, apparently lease returns. I could have had one for a touch under $90k. They looked in excellent condition and might be worth a look if you’re an early adopter. But frankly, the Tesla Model S looks like a far superior car, so I would probably pass even if I had $90k lying around looking for a home.

    Overall, I thought the Tesla dealer experience was excellent and I look forward to seeing further developments.


  • avatar

    I don’t find Neil pompous etc.. He may be a bit facile, but he’s literate and witty – in todays America that is suspect. He may actually be Swedish or worse.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s the Journal in him.

    • 0 avatar

      Sorry, but you’ll have to explain what you mean by facile, because I’m an American…

      Neil’s pompous precisely because he’s so “literate and witty.” I find few things more detestable then someone who’s convinced of their own superior intellect; That’s Neil in a nutshell.

      Besides, I thought wit was supposed to be funny. The only thing less impressive than Neil’s “wit” is his knowledge of cars and driving.

  • avatar

    I don’t think you have to worry too much about Jalopnik or Gawker. Don’t get me wrong. I still enjoy reading the stuff on there, but I no longer take what they say seriously.

    They are also “improving” their site right out of existence. They are typical of organizations and companies that get “too big for their britches” and want to grow even more, even if it alienates the very people that made them popular to begin with.

    Gawker, etc., and it’s commentators, used to be a community of like minded people who had the guts to say things that others wouldn’t. Now, like you said, it’s all about numbers, ratings, and it’s pretty obvious.

    As for the Tesla “S”, I’ll wait until August when I can read a good, complete review.

  • avatar

    I used to like Jalopnik and always saw it as light reading – certainly nothing I would ever take seriously or a site that would influence what car I buy, etc. Real journalism looks different but it was ok for some stories usually written in the style of an excited juvenile and decorated with a bunch of nice pics that make a welcome two minute break from work. Sadly, ever since they decided to “improve” the site, it’s an unusable clusterf*** of a web presence.

    I think in general these days, it’s the reader who’s losing out – in any slagging matches between sites and in general. So many sites out there and how many really do employ trained journalists, how many really research, check facts, etc? Times have changed and it’s now down to the reader to check facts. I’ve driven the roadster and am looking forward to driving the Model S – do I care how many minutes some car blog sites got with the car or if they are cryong about it? Nope.

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