Written by Noemi Pollack on February 15, 2013.
Somebody was asleep at the virtual wheel…
So Tesla finally did produce the vehicle logs that ostensibly contradict the New York Times’ reporter John Broder’s recent account of a test drive road trip he took, driving Tesla’s electronic car Model S, which resulted in a scathing negative review in that publication. But there was a lag of three days, which allowed for the rancorous back-and-forth to continue and escalate, pitting one of the nation’s most influential newspaper against one of the most successful entrepreneurs.
To begin with Tesla’s CEO Musk’s knee jerk response to the negative review was ill conceived. His blistering response in a blog post vociferously countered Broder’s account and said that data pulled from the Model S’s onboard computer would more clearly account for what really happened.
But no data was released to support that blog statement until three days later.
Apparently, for those who did not follow the public rants that erupted surrounding a bad review of the car, there are discrepancies in the nature of the trip as to how fully charged the car was at the outset, whether or not the car deviated from the planned route and took a detour and at what temperature the car was held – all directly responsible for the car’s performance.
This is clearly a case where data and PR intersect. One would think it critical for a communication team to create a scenario where success can happen, and have plans and precautions in place should there be a hiccup in the process — especially so when you have the Goliath of a newspaper covering the trip. As such, it would seem tantamount to success of any road trip to be able to follow it in real time, know where it is going at all times, keep aware of dashboard data in real time and act upon it. Minimally, the car was surely tracked via its GPS and at least that could have showed them any deviation from the agreed upon course, allowing the communication team to react as it happened.
What is puzzling is that Tesla’s communication team and engineers had several phone conversations with Broder throughout his trip. So how is it that they could not track the trip’s progress and counsel the driver of the vehicle in real time as to detours, charging and temperature gage, all directly impacting outcomes? And why was Musk not counseled as to his call with Broder last Friday, before the article appeared online, in which he offered regrets about the outcome of the test drive? Really? What regrets?
Or what about this one? According to Musk, “When I first heard about what could at best be described as irregularities in Broder’s behavior during the test drive, I called to apologize for any inconvenience that he may have suffered and sought to put my concerns to rest, hoping that he had simply made honest mistakes. That was not the case.” Apologized for any inconveniences?? Irregularities in Broder’s behavior not tractable in real time???
It would seem that this could have been easily course-corrected if someone was sharp at the virtual wheel. Opinions of what happened are flying, with even the NYT’s blog refuting every single point made by Tesla. Maybe the result will be a David and Goliath story, where the NY Times (Goliath) will not recant and where Musk’s (David) electronic data will not lie. With the difference being that the marketing disaster of Tesla’s own making is a misstep that may find “David” at the wrong end of the stick.
Hard to combat missteps…