One of Tesla Inc.’s engineers told the California Department of Motor Vehicles that the company’s Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk overstated the capability of Tesla’s driver-assistance system, Autopilot, early this year.
The clarification was described in a series of records that the California authorities released to Plainsite, the legal advocacy group, which published the documents on Thursday. DMV officials asked CJ Moore, a director of Autopilot software, according to a March 9 memo, about Musk’s claims that Teslas would be capable of fully autonomous driving this year.
“Elon’s tweet does not match engineering reality per CJ,” Miguel Acosta, chief of the California DMV’s autonomous vehicles branch, wrote in the memo, according to Bloomberg. Musk tweeted and spoke during an earnings call in January about his confidence that Tesla’s Full Self Driving (FSD) will reach the safety level above that of an average driver as soon as this year.
Level 5 autonomy — meaning its cars won’t require human intervention — is something Musk has said for several years he believes Tesla is on the verge of delivering. At the moment, however, drivers have needed to keep their hands on the wheel when using Autopilot. Two years ago, Tesla raised more than $2 billion after Musk made several predictions about robotaxis that didn’t materialize.
According to a report by Bloomberg, Tesla shares rose 0.9% as of 9:40 a.m. Friday in New York while the stock has dropped about 6% this year.
“Tesla is at Level 2 currently,” Acosta wrote in the memo in March. “Tesla indicated that Elon is extrapolating on the rates of improvement when speaking about L5 capabilities. Tesla couldn’t say if the rate of improvement would make it to L5 by end of calendar year.”
The memo is a rare window into how Autopilot engineers have had to square the high expectations set by their hard-driving boss with regulators’ concerns. Last month, the National Transportation Safety Board and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said they would investigate a fatal crash involving a Tesla Model S in Texas that crashed into a tree and resulted in the death of two people. According to police and a fire marshal report, No one was in the driver’s seat,
Four days after that incident, the California DMV sent a letter to Eric Williams, Tesla’s associate general counsel, encouraging the company to “provide clear and effective communication to customers, buyers and the general public” about its Autopilot features, their capabilities, and how they should be used.
“As Tesla is aware, the public’s misunderstanding about the limits of the technology and its misuse can have tragic consequences,” Acosta wrote.