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Do I have a Faulty Memory or is Road & Track Magazine a Big Fat Liar?

Apr 26, 2016
This post might be well categorized in the "preaching to the choir" department. But it might just as well fit the "with the proliferation of digital media everyone is now a journalist" department as well.

I think I just had my first personal experience of a media publication mis-characterizing statements made by Elon Musk for the purposes of attracting eyeballs. Or put another way, a piece appealing to people's base instincts. Or put yet another way... pure unadulterated click bait.

I was doing some research for an article I'm penning and came across an online piece from Road & Track entitled "Elon Musk Admits to Shareholders That the Tesla Roadster Was a Disaster". I was baited to read the piece because I've been reading piles of articles on Tesla Motors and did not recall Elon ever characterizing the Roadster with that language. The piece was based on admissions made by Elon regarding Tesla's history at the recent shareholders conference. Funny, I watched the conference in its entirety and heard no such thing. A sentence in the first paragraph of the article further characterizes the CEO's remarks as "Elon Musk basically admitted that the Roadster project was a complete debacle."

So with words like "disaster" and "debacle" spilling out early on, journalist Bob Sorokanich is clearly steering his post in a direction far removed from the take being absorbed over in my corner of the universe. Silly me, I took Elon's remarks about the Roadster - the first version of the Roadster, by the way, which Sorokanich fails to distinguish from subsequent versions- as a frank account of how hard it was to breathe new life into the concept of a purely electric car. I took Elon's admissions of ignorance as to the unexpected amount of money and effort that went into the project as a textbook example of how something that's impossible to create could only be created by those who are ignorant of the fact the task is impossible.

Silly me. Thank you, Bob Sorokanich, for explaining what Elon really meant.

The wisdom of the article continues. Sorokanich seems to turn it over to a Katie Fehrenbacher, who has written an article on the same topic for Fortune magazine. Or does he? He refers to Katie, but then does not quote her for a while, leaving one to wonder whose words you are reading in the interim. Finally, Sorokanich actually quotes Fehrenbacher, but not without first mischaracterizing what Katie had to say about licensing the motor technology for the Roadster. Sorokanich tells us "Tesla's heads figured they could turn a profit on the Roadster by licensing drivetrain technology from the startup AC Propulsion and packing it in to chassis provided by Lotus" (emphasis mine, typos Bob's). And his lead-in to Katie's quote from the Fortune article states "Fehrenbacher writes in Fortune, that daydream proved completely impossible:" (emphasis mine).

Funny, I read Katie's quote as simply relaying the facts about how Tesla was unable to utilize the AC Propulsion technology as is into a production car, and that extensive modifications were required. Katie heard Musk say what I heard Musk say. (Katie, if you are listening, please read the Road & Track post so that you can clear away all the misunderstandings in your piece).

So again, thank you Bob Sorokanich.

As the article continues to unfold, Sorokanich continues to correct my own misperceptions about what was said at the meeting, with a high point being Sorokanich's characterization that even with rengineering "the Roadster was still a basket case". But then, soon afterward, Sorokanich ears and my ears may have been hearing something similar, as Sorokanich finally refers to the "early" Roadster, and even tacitly acknowledges that the Roadster was finally a success. Although he doesn't exactly use the word success, instead simply asserting that "...Tesla stopped losing money on every Roadster it sold".

But as the article winds down journalist Sorokanich again dons a different set of ears. We are told that Elon stated that "the long-promised $35,000 Tesla meant to bring practical electric cars to the masses, will likely be delayed".

Wait. What? I hadn't heard that! To make a long story short, when Elon spoke of the drop-dead date for suppliers to be ramped up for quantity delivery of M3 parts by July 1st, and that that was simply a goal, and that Elon did not expect the date to be made. Well, Sorokanich decoded that statement to mean that the delivery date of the M3 itself was already slipping. What journalistic acumen.

And to finish off this fine example of modern journalism, Sorokanich can't help but take a swing at the falcon wing doors on the X by inferring that Musk termed them "ridiculous". Again, I didn't hear that word come out of Elon's mouth. Sure glad you were there too Bob.

Well I'm glad we got what was actually said at the shareholder meeting all straightened out. I feel better already. Wait. Hold it. I don't feel better. I'm feeling a little manipulated, actually. Holy deception Batman! I almost drank the evil journalist Sorokanich's Kool-aid. Get away from the punch bowl people. Get completely the frack away from journalist Sorokanich's Kool-aid stand.

Hey Bob. Earth to Booooob! Guess what? You're not a journalist. Your'e not journaling the facts of what's unfolding in the auto industry. I'll tell you what you really are. You're an errand boy... sent by disgruntled automakers... to sling mud at a hero. And your 15 minutes should hopefully be about up. So picture what Doc Holiday said to shotgun toting Johnny Tyler after disarming the cowardly thug in the movie Tombstone ... "You may go now".

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