Musk Pushed Back Against Tesla Employees' Autopilot Concerns: Report

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
musk pushed back against tesla employees autopilot concerns report

Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s drive to develop and market new driving technology is well known, but former employees say he brushed aside their concerns about the safety of the company’s Autopilot system.

Several employees, including a former Autopilot engineer, told CNN Money that their concerns fell on deaf ears, as Musk always reverted back to a “bigger picture” position on safety.

The automaker’s semi-autonomous driving system came under scrutiny in the wake of a fatal May crash. Musk claims that although the Autopilot didn’t recognize a transport truck in that case, the system makes roads safer. He’s pledged to do more to educate owners on how to properly use Autopilot, but has no plans to stop offering the system.

Musk told the Wall Street Journal “we knew we had a system that on balance would save lives.”

Speaking to CNNMoney, ex-Autopilot engineer Eric Meadows claims he was pulled over by police in 2015 while testing Autopilot on a Los Angeles highway, a few months before the system’s release. The Tesla had difficulty handling turns, and the police suspected him of being intoxicated.

Meadows was later fired for performance reasons, but he claims his worries about Autopilot’s safety — especially the possibility that owners would “push the limits” of the technology — grew over time.

“The last two months I was scared someone was going to die,” he said.

The report mentions a former Tesla executive who worked closely with Musk, and claims the CEO was frequently at loggerheads with “overly cautious” employees. Tesla’s self-parking feature went ahead as planned, another source claims, despite worries that sensors wouldn’t function properly if the vehicle was near the edge of a steep slope. Again, the greater good of preventing driveway deaths overruled these concerns.

The employee mix at Tesla falls into two categories — younger, data-driven employees and seasoned automotive industry types. The report cites multiple sources who claim that data is the guiding factor in Tesla’s decisions, meaning slight risk is allowed if it means a greater potential for overall safety.

While this bothers some engineers and consumer safety groups, even the agency investigating the May crash sides with Musk’s views on safety. Recently, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration administrator Mark Rosekind said the industry “cannot wait for perfect” when it comes to marketing potentially life-saving autonomous technology.

[Image: Tesla Motors]

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  • DAC17 DAC17 on Jul 31, 2016

    Sounds to me an awful lot like the VW scandal. Various employees say something can't be done, but overbearing boss doesn't want to hear about it. Of course, Musk seems to get a bye for almost everything, because of the company's "green cred", so maybe he'll skate through this one.

  • VoGo VoGo on Jul 31, 2016

    If anyone read a credible news source* on the issue, they would see that the Tesla autopilot feature had nothing to do with the deadly crash. Autopilot doesn't control the brakes, only the steering. Which means that 90% of the comments on this and all the other related articles are completely wrong. *which could include NYT, CNBC, UPI,...

    • See 7 previous
    • Drzhivago138 Drzhivago138 on Aug 01, 2016

      @accord1999 Not that I have any dog in this fight, but couldn't speed-matching also be achieved by dialing back the motors?

  • Alan I blame COVID, the chip shortage, container shortage and the war in Ukraine. This aggression is evident in normal daily driving of late.
  • Alan $10 000 is a bit rich for a vehicle that most likely been flogged all its life, plus it's a VW. Lots of electrical gremlins live in them.
  • Alan Mitsubishi, Hino and Izuzu trucks are quite common in Australia. Another factor that needs to be taken into account are the cheap Chinese trucks and vans that are entering the market in Australia and becoming more popular as reliability improves, with huge warranties. Businesses want the cheapest logistics. Plumbers, concreters, builders buy many of these in their lightest versions, around 2.5 tonne payload. Hino/Toyota could use the cheaper competitor in Mitsubishi as a competitor against the Chinese. You don't see too many of the Japanese/Asian trucks in the rural areas.
  • 2ACL I think it's a good choice. The E89 didn't get respect due to its all-around focus when new, but it's aged well, and the N52/6HP combo is probably more fun and capable than it's given credit for.
  • Wjtinfwb I can hear the ticking from here...