LOS ANGELES -- Tesla Motors' CEO Elon Musk has been at war with The New York Times regarding a recent negative review that he claimed was rigged to make the Model S sedan fail.
In an interview Monday with Bloomberg TV, Musk claimed the negative review has cost the company as much as $100 million.
"We did get a lot of cancellations as a result of The New York Times article," Musk said in the Bloomberg interview. "It probably affected us to the tune of tens of millions, if not maybe on the order of $100 million."
The missing millions, Musk quickly corrected, referred more to the market valuation of Tesla Motors -- not the dollar amount of actual canceled orders. As far as the number of actual cancellations, he revised his statement to say "a few hundred."
Might all this finger-pointing and number-tossing be a way for Musk to establish a case for economic loss for Tesla and sue The Times?
Tesla spokeswoman Shanna Hendriks responded via email: "I am unaware of any plans to sue the NYT. We are very focused on correcting the misperception that the NYT story created in the market about how Model S performs in cold weather."
Tesla is no stranger to the courtroom, having sued BBC's "Top Gear" for libel when the histrionic English program televised the rolling away of a Tesla Roadster on a flatbed -- even though the vehicle had not run out of charge, nor was in any way incapacitated. The courts, while sympathetic to Tesla, ruled for the BBC.
Calculating the costs
The initial run of Model S sedans cost around $100,000, but the new batches coming off the line are less-expensive, shorter-range versions. If the average transaction price is about $85,000 for vehicles coming off the line today, a few hundred cancellations would mean a revenue loss of about $25 million. When asked specifically how many orders were canceled as a direct result of the article, Tesla declined comment.
Having journalists review new vehicles is a cost of doing business for automakers, a PR gambit with the promise of a gleaming cover shot (and a Motor Trend Car of the Year award) worth far more than any advertisement. The potential downside is a picture of your crippled car on a flatbed.
That's what happened with The Times' Tesla review.