Tesla Logs: The problem with Data vs. User
This week the New York Times published a review of the Tesla Supercharger system and Model S in the Northeast. The article detailed a very frustrating trip, ultimately ending with the car on a flat bed tow truck. Tesla quickly responded with assertions that the story was ‘fake’ and they had data logs to prove it. Yesterday the logs came out, complete with comments that disputed point by point many of the criticisms leveled in the article.
Before the hard facts came out the EV community responded at first with helpful tips for the driver in the future (ever the altruists). Once the data was out there, lines were drawn. People either took the side that the article was a smear job, that facts can be manipulated, or that we could never really know the whole story.
The author’s intentions aside, this story illustrates the difference between fact and feelings.
There is no doubt that there is a divide between what a user experiences and feels, and the cold truth of what happens. I’m sure that at some point in each of our lives we have been confronted with an unbiased record of a situation that we experienced and remembered much differently. Our opinions are warped from an entire life of previous experiences, and in the moment we can perceive things according to our own expectations.
For example, I too have run an EV down to 0 available range, and when it hits the point where you are notified of that fact, the only thing I felt was panic. Even though a charger was well within the remaining range, and even though I had planned on it happening, there is something about ‘running out of gas’ that leaves a pit in my stomach. My heart raced, I wanted to pull over right away, I felt like I was completely out of control of the situation. Getting to the charger gave a huge feeling of relief, but not enough to make the net experience positive. The logs won’t tell that story.
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Data doesn’t need to be ‘cold hard truth’ it doesn’t need to illustrate user error in a ‘gotcha’ sort of way. Good data can help the user, it supports the user.
Take any sort of pride or bias away, and instead look at the things that you can learn from the data, the way in which it can help you. More information isn’t a bad thing. Measurement and analysis helps close the gap between what a user feels and the facts of what happened. Closing that gap is critical to the widespread adoption of electric cars.
Graphs can’t convey emotions, but understanding them can help change the way we feel
In order to get more people into electric vehicles they have to actually enjoy electric vehicles. The first time they push down the pedal and feel the rush of a silent acceleration is such a positive feeling. How wonderful would it be if that delight lasted the entire ride?
Without seeing data (like the logs from Tesla) the driver can only rely on how they felt. A bad feeling from a previous drive can roll over onto future trips, even if it’s only minor things going wrong, the frustrations seem to compound upon one another.
I don’t think there are many things more frustrating than not understanding what is going wrong. Without a grasp on what is going wrong, you can’t take the steps to fix it. No driver should feel helpless or clueless about their vehicle.
Most people grew up around conventional vehicles; to the point where their operation isn’t something we really need to give much thought to. Knowing that this experience will undoubtedly be different when entering an electric vehicle, especially a pure EV, the less time it takes to bring them ‘up to speed’ (pun intended), the more enjoyment they will have. Let’s help these drivers. Instead of having them guess at what works or what doesn’t let’s show them.
A car is more than a set of wheels that takes us from place to place, there is a huge emotional aspect that comes with driving. We can’t expect to capture that with some graphs. What we can do is use those graphs to tell a clearer story, to assure and inform drivers, and give them confidence going forward.