Life has rules.
Don't eat at a place called Mom's. Don't play poker against a guy called Doc.
Don't get in an argument with The New York Times (NYT).
Yet that's just the position Tesla Motors (TSLA), the high-end electric car maker, and founder Elon Musk find themselves in. The Times' John Broder dumped all over the company's Model S sedan, following a test drive through the wilds of Connecticut, and investors promptly dumped the stock.
After trying both tweets and TV. However Musk found another way to respond. The car's own logs.
One of the most important new features of today's cars is that they have sensors and computers that can tell not just how they're feeling now, but what they've been up to. The Tesla is no exception. Musk wrote a long blog post on the company's Web site, but what was more compelling was the data he brought to the party, in the form of graphs taken from the car's performance log.
He logged the speed of the car over time and, where Broder said he was going slowly, they showed the car going pretty fast. He showed that, where Broder had claimed to have reduced the load to climate control at one point, he actually increased it. Where he claimed to have problems reaching a charger, he actually mucked about in a very tight space. Where he claimed to be unable to find a charging station, there were in fact several.
The biggest problem seems to have been with a charging station in Norwalk, which only charged the battery slightly and not fully, as had been done at two other stops.
The question remains whether data will stop the rot. While the stock has not recovered all the ground it lost to the review, it has recovered two-thirds of it, and as this was written it sat at $38.60, having closed Friday at $39.25.
How fast it can recover the rest is subject to question, but the fact is that Tesla cars are not for everyone. They are a high end product aimed at buyers who understand the risks of the new, and who are as conscious of the environment as their parents and grandparents were of the benefits of supercharging and tail fins. The Model S lists at $52,400, which includes a federal tax incentive worth $7,500.
The fate of the S on showroom floors will determine the fate of Tesla line extensions, starting with the gull-winged Model X SUV which debuted at the Detroit Auto Show. Industry observers remain skeptical, but they were cynical before, and that is an improvement in their outlook.
Musk, a South African native who first made his fortune with Paypal, has to overcome the reputation that he whines over every negative review, and if this were a normal back-and-forth between a celebrity and a newspaper I'd agree. But the guy's got data, and that may make all the difference.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.