Following news that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is investigating a recent fatal crash, Tesla is standing by its self-driving Autopilot technology. In fact, CEO Elon Musk has stepped up his support for the autonomous driving software (still in beta, of course). Here's what's going on.
As details of the accident come trickling out, Reuters says that there was some delay in how first regulators and then the public learned about the accident and death. Remember, the incident happened May 7. Reuters says that Tesla didn't inform the authorities until May 16 and NHTSA didn't make its investigation public until June 30. Reuters points out that Tesla raised $1.46 billion with a stock offering May 18-19, before the automaker's internal investigation was finished in the last week of May.
The automaker told Reuters that it didn't need to disclose the crash or potential investigation before selling the stock in May. Musk later told Fortune that not disclosing the crash was "not material" to the company in an article by Carol Loomis, who wrote that keeping the information hidden helped Musk financially:
Musk took to Twitter and told Fortune editor Alan Murray that the article was wrong:
On May 18, eleven days after Brown died, Tesla and CEO Elon Musk, in combination (roughly three parts Tesla, one part Musk), sold more than $2 billion of Tesla stock in a public offering at a price of $215 per share—and did it without ever having released a word about the crash.
To put things baldly, Tesla and Musk did not disclose the very material fact that a man had died while using an auto-pilot technology that Tesla had marketed vigorously as safe and important to its customers.
Musk told Fortune via email that Tesla's Autopilot software is a good thing, and would save a lot of lives if it were installed in all vehicles.
@alansmurray Yes, it was material to you -- BS article increased your advertising revenue. Just wasn't material to TSLA, as shown by market.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 5, 2016
Musk has been on a bit of a Tweetfest about the situation, telling former AutoblogGreen contributor Sam Abuelsamid that his article in Forbes should not have excluded non-occupant deaths. this story about an Autopilot-using Model X that rolled over in Pennsylvania last week. The occupants in the car survived. Videos of Autopilot involved in minor crashes, like the video above, get a lot more attention than clips of the software working just fine (as you can see below).
If anyone bothered to do the math (obviously, you did not) they would realize that of the over 1M auto deaths per year worldwide, approximately half a million people would have been saved if the Tesla autopilot was universally available. Please, take 5 mins and do the bloody math before you write an article that misleads the public.