Emails reveal Elon Musk oversaw presentation of Tesla’s self-driving tech video aimed at making people believe a Tesla car could drive itself

Tesla CEO Elon Musk reportedly directed a video in 2016 that touted the capabilities of Autopilot, the automaker’s driver assistance system. Emails from the time show Musk even dictated the video’s opening title saying the car drove itself. He reportedly told engineers that “they don’t need to hard-code every step of the self-driving feature just for the purposes of said video.” An engineer’s deposition revealed last week that the car does not drive itself and instead follows a predetermined route on a high-definition map.

If there was any doubt that Musk knew the 2016 Tesla Autopilot demo video was staged, it may have just been deleted. Bloomberg says it has access to internal Tesla emails that reveal Musk himself oversaw the deception. I just want to be absolutely clear that everyone’s top priority is to put on a fantastic display of Autopilot driving. “Since it’s a demo, there’s no problem with hard-coding any part of it, because we’ll add production code to it later in an OTA update,” Musk said. in an email.

Musk posted a blog post on Tesla’s website a day before the video was released on October 19. In it, it said that all Tesla vehicles will be delivered from that day forward with the necessary hardware to in full self-driving capability. In emails he sent to his staff that month, he emphasized the importance of a demonstration to promote the system. Musk sees no downside to this approach: “I’m going to tell the world this is what the car can do, not what it can do when it’s received,” he wrote. Despite these comments, the video was unclear when it was published.

Internal emails show that Musk himself asked the Autopilot team to open the video with the words: The person in the driver’s seat is only here for legal reasons. He doesn’t do anything. The car drove itself. Then, when Musk promoted the video on Twitter, he wrote: The Tesla drives itself (without any human intervention) on city streets, highways and streets, then finds a parking space. And when the technology was made available to Tesla drivers three years later, the result was rather disappointing, as the system struggled to navigate on its own.

These new revelations have caused an uproar on the web, with many Internet users criticizing Tesla for leading them since at least 2016. Tesla knows that its cars cannot drive themselves, but presented it as such. According to its own employees, Tesla should have disclosed this in order not to mislead customers into thinking its technology was more advanced than it was. “Tesla may also have mentioned that, while filming the video, the Model X crashed into a fence,” said Ashok Elluswamy, director of Autopilot software at Tesla, who explained the video.

Elluswamy’s deposition was taken as evidence in a lawsuit against Tesla for a fatal 2018 accident involving former Apple engineer Walter Huang. The lawsuit alleges errors in Autopilot and Huang’s misbelief in the system’s capabilities caused the accident. Federal and state agencies, as well as customers, have also criticized Tesla for falsely promoting the capabilities of its driver assistance systems in Autopilot and Full Self-Driving (which not all as its name suggests). In fact, Tesla advises its drivers to remain alert and focused when the systems are activated.

Last July, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) accused Tesla of misleading advertising for its systems, which some Tesla customers also alleged in a September lawsuit against the company. In addition, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is actively investigating two crashes related to the Autopilot system. Tesla could also face a criminal investigation by the US Department of Justice over its self-driving claims. These statements, and even the names Autopilot and Full Self-Driving, are considered misleading.

In 2019, analysts found that the company’s repeated claims that Autopilot reduced crashes by about 40% were false, and that in fact crashes may have increased by 59% of the system. That same year, the NHTSA told Tesla it was misleading customers by claiming the agency called the Tesla Model 3 the safest car it had ever tested. Faced with the allegations, Tesla defended itself in a motion in November to dismiss a complaint from customers suing it for deceptive marketing. He said: “Our inability to achieve an ambitious long-term goal is not cheating.”

In a conversation on Twitter Spaces in December, the company said that its advantage over other automakers as it aims to solve the problem of full self-driving is that “the Tesla car is evolutionary towards self-driving, what no other car manufacturer can do” . What remains to be proven. In real conditions, the performance of Autopilot and its improved version, Full Self-Driving, remains mediocre. NHTSA has launched several investigations to determine whether these systems are safe, including following hundreds of reports of ghost braking behavior.

Another from NHTSA is investigating whether Tesla vehicles detect the presence of motorcyclists after at least two motorcyclists were killed after being hit by Teslas. The agency is also investigating the propensity of Tesla vehicles to crash into emergency vehicles. The company may also face criminal prosecution. It remains a crime in the United States to intentionally deceive its investors or customers, and federal prosecutors are investigating whether Tesla and Musk’s many claims about its driver assistance systems meet that requirement.

Elluswamy’s testimony certainly did not help Tesla. And Musk’s direct involvement in the video and subsequent promotion of the ability of Tesla cars to drive themselves comes at a time when the leader’s reputation and reliability are increasingly in question. In addition to his Twitter distractions, Musk also promised during Tesla’s third-quarter investor conference call that the company would have an “epic end of the year,” but Tesla fell short of those estimates. fourth quarter deliveries. Furthermore, the company’s stock fell 65% in 2022.

Musk is currently on trial in the United States for a 2018 tweet in which he claimed to have found the funds to take Tesla private. The jury was charged with determining whether the tweet misled investors. In fact, the purchase never materialized, but at the time, Musk’s tweet fueled a rally in Tesla’s stock price that ended abruptly a week later when it appeared he didn’t have the necessary funds for a buyout. The shares soon rose in value, making Musk the richest man in the world until he bought Twitter at the end of October 2022.

And you?

What is your opinion on the subject?

In your opinion, what penalties could Musk and Tesla receive in this case?

What do you think of the controversies surrounding Musk? Does it damage the image of its companies?

In your opinion, has Musk had his day at the helm of Tesla? Should he pass the torch to a new CEO?

How would you compare Tesla’s Autopilot system to competing systems?

See also

Elon Musk is on trial in the United States for a 2018 tweet in which he claimed to have found the funds to take Tesla private, he will lose the trial if the tweet is found to be “misleading”

Elon Musk: Just because I tweet something doesn’t mean people believe it, the lawsuit over one of his tweets in 2018 allegedly cost Tesla investors millions of dollars

Investors decide Tesla is an automaker, not a tech company, Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter causes Tesla stock to drop 71%

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