By on June 21, 2018

Tesla CEO Elon Musk appears to be on the hunt for potential saboteurs and thieves. However, as the company doubles down on Model 3 assembly both inside its Fremont, California plant and the tent erected outside, a murky sideshow has emerged.

On Sunday night, Musk emailed employees to alert them to the actions of a saboteur caught hacking the automaker’s manufacturing operating system (MOS), cautioning them to be on the lookout for other nefarious deeds. The automaker then filed a lawsuit against process technician Martin Tripp, who Tesla alleges stole several gigabytes worth of data from the MOS and funnelled the info, which included photos, to shadowy third parties. Incorrect statements were also made to the media by the disgruntled employee, Tesla claims, and it’s now seeking its pound of flesh (as well as its data, plus punitive damages) via the suit.

Tripp’s now telling his side of the story. Oh, and there’s a workplace shooting threat to toss into the mix, too.

Speaking to the Washington Post, Tripp, who was fired last week, said he’s not a saboteur or a thief. Rather, the ex-employee says he’s a whistleblower who felt compelled to speak anonymously to the media after seeing “some really scary things.”

These scary things supposedly include battery packs with punctured cells being placed in “hundreds” of automobiles during the company’s rush to reach a promised production rate of 5,000 Model 3s per week by the end of June — a claim made to the media earlier this month. Tesla says this never occurred.

The allegations in Tesla’s lawsuit are incorrect, Tripp said, including the charge that he wrote code in order to draw the data from the automaker’s MOS. “I don’t have the patience for coding,” he told the Washington Post.  He also refutes the allegation that he was combative with co-workers and decided to hack the company after becoming displeased with his low-tier position.

“That’s their generic excuse,” he said. “I could literally care less.”

It’s a case of he said/they said, and Tripp will get his day in court. On Thursday morning, however, the story took on an even strange twist.

Police were called to Tesla’s Nevada Gigafactory, source of the Model 3’s batteries and Tripp’s former place of employment. A Tesla spokesperson told CNBC that a person claiming to be a friend of Tripp phoned the automaker on Wednesday afternoon, warning them that Tripp was “going to shoot the place up.”

The company called the authorities and beefed up security at the Gigafactory, Tesla claims. After an investigation, the Stoney County sheriff’s office found “no credible threat” against the building or its workers.

Tripp told Ars Technica that he made no such threat.

“Absolutely not!” he said. “The ONLY thing I have said to any ‘friends’ is I sent a link to the CNBC article to five of them and asked if they really thought I was a hacker.”

Tripp provided Ars with a June 20th email exchange that took place after Tesla filed the lawsuit. In it, Tripp wrote to Musk, claiming, “Don’t worry, you have what’s coming to you for the lies you have told to the public and investors.” Musk took this as a direct threat; Tripp said it wasn’t. Just a karma kind of thing.

Musk then wrote that Tripp should feel ashamed of himself for “framing other people,” calling him “a horrible human being.” In response, Tripp denied he framed anyone (the lawsuit claims he installed his hacking software in three other computers to avoid detection), accusing Tesla, again, of unsafe practices and exorbitant waste at its assembly plants.

In his conversation with Ars, Tripp said he raised these concerns both with his manager and his HR rep, only to receive the brush-off.

The saga continues.

[Image: Elon Musk/Twitter]

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34 Comments on “Tesla’s Employee Lawsuit Saga Grows Weirder by the Minute...”


  • avatar
    Sub-600

    That’s got to be a great work environment. Good grief.

  • avatar
    James2

    The Velocity Channel should have installed cameras. Reality TV!

  • avatar
    civicjohn

    That picture is just so weird, I won’t call it “staged”, but it does look like a shiny Model 3 has been carefully placed.

    I guess this is a part of the line where no humans are needed?

  • avatar
    DavesNotHere

    Just another opportunity to throw shade at Tesla, which is reliable clickbait for TTAC’s audience. There is much more to this story than noted here, as reported on by other car news sources, but it actually makes Martin Tripp look worse, so it likely won’t get any play here.

    I’m not carrying any water for Tesla, but the anti-Tesla/Musk slant at TTAC has jumped the shark. It makes me think less of TTAC, which is the unfortunate side of the clickbait equation.

    • 0 avatar
      EBFlex

      Simply reporting how badly and often Tesla has failed isn’t having a slant.

      • 0 avatar
        DavesNotHere

        Read your own sentence, bro, it’s slanted. Obviously, you didn’t go to Journalism school.

        Compare and contrast to Jalopnik’s article on the same, not that you would care to challenge your bias.

        https://jalopnik.com/heres-the-wild-email-exchange-between-teslas-alleged-sa-1827017800

        • 0 avatar
          Malforus

          Tesla looks bad in both these articles and Musk looks worse.

          This fiasco is a problem and I am very curious if an NTSB investigation might come out if during legal discovery the accusation of specific improper manufactor of parts is noted.

          Course again there is no actual criminal charges which shows Tesla’s hand. They know discovery in a criminal case would just expose more problems.

          Not sure of your point other than attacking the other commenter. Tesla’s PR people have an uphill battle if Musk can’t resist e-mailing with someone who he is seeking to fire.

          • 0 avatar
            WheelMcCoy

            Just came back from reading Jalopnik’s version. I have to agree with @DavesNotHere; Jalopnik’s version offers more context.

            I also went over to ArsTechnica; they tend to be more technical. I sense Tripp’s story is not consistent.

        • 0 avatar
          EBFlex

          How is accurately reporting news regarding Tesla having a slant?

    • 0 avatar
      civicjohn

      DNH,

      If you want to talk about clickbait, head back on over to electrek.co, where you will find your fanboy brethren.

      The coverage of Tesla here pails in comparison to mainstream sites like finance.yahoo.com, and pretty much every site that deals with publicly traded companies. Pretty funny when you mention Jalopnik, you know your buddy Fred is way less biased because he’s blatant about trolling for “referrals”, and he’s no fan of Jalopnik – at least the Jalopnik site earns its money honestly, by burying the user with ads.

      Hello, it’s a public company, subject to scrutiny, and the CEO makes Trump look like a monk with his use of Twitter. Can you name another CEO that has litigated a case in the court of public opinion? I believe I saw that the CEO of Intel was fired today because of an affair with an employee. I guess you believe this kind of news isn’t needed, but you’re wrong. At least he didn’t camp out on the GF roof, sleep on the floor of the factory, take a picture of him looking like a homeless person with a sign, completely diss the questions of institutional investors while spending 30 minutes with a YouTube fanboy, you’re right, nothing to see here.

      TTAC has plenty of people that are willing to share their thoughts on cars, but I’ve never seen such a rabid fan base as Tesla owners/ shareholders, and I highly doubt that many of those who post have graduated from their parents basement. So in your next post, I expect to read how successful you are, and that’s fine with me. I really hope you are.

      So we get the standard opening, “I’m not carrying any water for Tesla”, when you can barely reach your keyboard given the amount of water on your back.

      Just go with “TTAC is crap” or something like that, I’ll understand.

    • 0 avatar
      ceipower

      Well said.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      BREAKING NEWS: PT Barnum Musk is closing all of Solar City’s operations in 9 states and ending its affiliation with Home Depot (that accounted for 50% of all revenues).

      Sh!t’s about to get real, real fast, for The Great Ponzi that is Solar City, and also, for the overhyoed, extremely overvalued sh!tshow that is Tesla, and Carnival Barker Musk.

      June 22, 2018 / 12:14 AM / in 3 hours
      Exclusive: Tesla to close a dozen solar facilities in nine states – documents

      Nichola Groom, Salvador Rodriguez, Kristina Cooke

      LOS ANGELES/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Electric car maker Tesla Inc’s move last week to cut 9 percent of its workforce will sharply downsize the residential solar business it bought two years ago in a controversial $2.6 billion deal, according to three internal company documents and seven current and former Tesla solar employees…

      https://www.reuters.com/article/us-tesla-solar-exclusive/exclusive-tesla-to-close-a-dozen-solar-facilities-in-nine-states-documents-idUSKBN1JI013

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    Agree, I’m not a Tesla fanboi , but I’m certain the Big Three have been artfully engineering a smear against this mark. After all, it is an American venture , which I would like to see succeed.
    As far as poor workplace environment , research GM in the 70-80s. Lots of good reading.

    • 0 avatar
      EBFlex

      “but I’m certain the Big Three have been artfully engineering a smear against this mark.”

      Citation needed

      • 0 avatar
        cimarron typeR

        Uhh… NADA blocking Tesla dealerships from staying open in many states. I seriously doubt it was the Honda dealer groups that were so nervous about an outsider opening stores in their competitive areas. I’m sure the Big 3 greased local state legislators

        • 0 avatar
          srh

          That’s regulatory capture and sleazy business, but it’s not a smear.

        • 0 avatar
          civicjohn

          cimmaron,

          It’s probably obvious by my screen name I like Honda, but that was a really poor choice to use.

          I suggest you seek out a copy of “Arrogance and Accords”, which was published in 1997 and explained in detail the sleazy deal making during the period when Honda was ramping up the number of dealerships. From regional managers to salesmen, it was truly a shameful time for Honda.

          But I appreciate you bringing that up – it reminded me of that book, and it appears to have been eliminated by Honda – the cheapest copy on Amazon is $71.00, so please excuse me for a minute while I find my copy and list it for sale!

    • 0 avatar
      Malforus

      I never thought I would see a time that embraced the paranoia of the 80’s with the unfounded complaints of media assassination of the Robber Baron era.

      The 2010’s are defined by unfounded accusations offered under the pretense of “just asking”.

      What a time to be alive.

    • 0 avatar
      Asdf

      Tesla is a beacon of incompetence. It cannot even make a car that can fully charge in 5 minutes or less, which is something other automakers have mastered for decades with the use of liquid fuels. What a travesty.

    • 0 avatar
      civicjohn

      cimarron,

      You picked a good name. My brother’s wife (now my sister-in-law), had a Cimarron when I first met her. I was probably spoiled, because at the time, my GF had a 911. I should have married her!

      If you are one of those that believe:

      – the USA receives a $5 trillion subsidy for “big oil”
      – the US government supports “big oil” at any expense (wonder why all of those charging stations are popping up with the dieselgate scandal where VW is mandated to create a charging station network).
      – just by our very existence, the US is killing off the planet
      – EV buyers deserve a taxpayer subsidy for a $70-90k car
      – perhaps the world is flat
      – perhaps you are a bit paranoid

      I completely understand that you claim you are not a Tesla fanboy, yet to some extent, I am a Tesla fanboy. Just don’t bring up things in the 1980s, as that’s a pretty far reach to excuse any bad practices in the 80s. Why don’t you raise the Civil War as an example of Tesla hate?

      • 0 avatar
        cimarron typeR

        civicjohn I’m not sure I understand the basis of your comments.I’m no member of Greenpeace, and I would always appreciate a tax break of an EV ,I’d probably buy a Volt over a 3 or Bolt .

        I just think today’s populace in general is very quick to judge.And the motoring press/general press knows who buys ads from their websites/magazines/newspapers and its not this little company.
        I don’t blame Tesla for taking advantage of a ridiculous tax break to build their fan base. It allowed them to build a relationship with buyers with the most economic advantage. It’s not their fault GM gave away their factory for pennys on the dollar.

        I’m sure their data is a target for industrial espionage, so I’m sure there’s a basis to some of the reporting.
        It’s a young , innovative company with American engineering, which is having some growing pains. It worked out fairly well for Apple too.It probably needs to be run by someone else that Mr Musk though.

        I may be a bit sardonic , but I’m not wearing an aluminum foil hat- just a 12 monkeys T -shirt. Cheers.

        • 0 avatar
          civicjohn

          cimarron,

          First, you brought up the topic of NADA shenigans, of which I am sure come into play, but you omit the Tesla salespeople’s class action lawsuit that was settled recently.

          Just as important, Tesla made the decision with respect to their distribution methodology, which quite frankly, hurts their quarterly results.

          I do hope you find a copy of the book I mentioned above, and maybe I’ll make some quick money! The post was meant to say there are no one in the auto industry without some blame.

          I’m glad you are willing to take a tax credit for buying a car. That doesn’t apply in my buying decision, but since you bought it up, it does rankle me that Model S/X got it, that’s just absurd to give well-heeled buyers of $70-100k cars a $7500 credit. The great unwashed population that doesn’t even have a chance to claim it, because they most likely have itemize, frustrates me even more.

          I think your comment “I just think today’s populace in general is very quick to judge.” seems to say that you’ve only recently recognized that the “news business” is on a 24/7/365 cycle. I remember very well when CNN came on air in 1980, I watched it in my hotel room, so I think we can both agree the news cycle is looking for anything they can to produce headlines, and EM is quite happy to provide them.

          You write “It allowed them to build a relationship with buyers with the most economic advantage.”, well, you’ll need to back that up with some facts.

          “I’m sure their data is a target for industrial espionage” probably extends to many more companies than Tesla, they aren’t the only company with any proprietary knowledge.

          With respect to my bullet points in my reply, those are simply a list of comments that are served up on electrek.co on a routine basis. I certainly don’t want to paint you with a broad brushstroke,

          “This little company” has a market cap of over $50 billion, and seems incapable of producing a profit. I hope EM proves me wrong.

  • avatar
    TW5

    Tesla, as a public company, has been vaporware from the outset. It’s a plaything for demon capital and activist investors who hope the company will earn a windfall from the public policy initiatives they support, both globally and in the US. Plus, they have quite a bit of intellectual capital that many people would probably like to steal, or perhaps they would like to use the appearance of a breach to execute a hostile takeover or short sell a stock that has been on a bull run (antithetically) since Trump won.

    Long story short, Tesla a geopolitical company that attracts geopolitical operatives, activist investors and activist employees who are constantly screwing around in a non-business capacity. This episode of (perhaps) corporate espionage is just part and parcel to the game. Musk is under constant attack from these people. He’s either caught someone and he knows it, or he’s becoming paranoid. Regardless, none of this is particularly surprising. Tesla was a magnet for dirtbags from the beginning, even if the concept was innocent.

  • avatar
    WheelMcCoy

    Tripp: “That’s their generic excuse,” he said. “I could literally care less.”

    It should be “I couldn’t care less.” His misuse of the phrase already makes me suspect him. :)

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Legitimate whistleblowers don’t resort to hacking company computers. This isn’t some kind of spy movie we’re living in here. He could have just called OSHA and/or the SEC.

    Punctured lithium ion cells tend to burn, so I doubt they could have been installed in a battery pack. Besides, with every pack consuming 4000 cells, why would someone bother to install a few damaged ones when the factory is producing them by the millions?

    Life at Tesla isn’t drama-free, but Tesla has little motivation to fire someone they just spent money to hire and train, except that he’s trouble. His story is BS.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      Yeah, the punctured “lithium cell” claim is the giveaway. With the technology Tesla is using, a cell puncture would have resulted in the entire pack burning up. If Tesla is using technology that allows a puncture to occur without a fire (and that technology does exist in a lab), then the puncture isn’t an issue.

      In some of the better accounts of the incident, Tripp wasn’t getting along with co-workers and was reassigned. The reassignment with what set him off.

    • 0 avatar
      Jagboi

      There was that car in LA last week that spontaneous burned up, perhaps it had damaged cells? Or maybe it was being driven by a non believer and that caused it to burst into flames?

  • avatar
    erlebo

    Tesla starts production in a tent and things turn into a circus.

  • avatar
    Eliyahu

    Manufacturing complex products is perhaps not rocket science, but it still requires the coordination of many activities. It is fair to question, like the financial press, whether there is any realistic possibility of meeting the announced production goals. Without any pretense of actually gathering further information, my bet is a resounding NO. Musk may need diversions as much as el Presidente. Maybe a few more cars put into orbit?

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    What kind of moron goes and talks to the media when he’s in the middle of a lawsuit?

    I agree the punctured cell story sounds like BS, mainly because it’s very difficult to puncture a steel-can cylindrical LiIon cell. Doing so would most likely not cause a fire however; it would cause electrolyte leakage and moisture ingress which would make the cell fail in a benign way. All cells much pass a much more severe nail penetration test without smoke or fire in order to receive agency certification.

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