I’m a fan of Tesla, but it has been a rough month for the company.
In March, a Tesla Model X on Autopilot ran into a concrete barrier on Highway 85 in Mountain View, California. The driver was killed and the car exploded. Tesla wrote, “We have never seen this level of damage to a Model X in any other crash.”
“In the US, there is one automotive fatality every 86 million miles across all vehicles from all manufacturers. For Tesla, there is one fatality, including known pedestrian fatalities, every 320 million miles in vehicles equipped with Autopilot hardware. If you are driving a Tesla equipped with Autopilot hardware, you are 3.7 times less likely to be involved in a fatal accident.”
Statistics are rarely as compelling as stories, especially true stories, but I find these statistics reassuring. And, as with the Florida Autopilot crash in 2016, it makes a big difference that the only fatality here was the driver of the Tesla, not a member of the general public.
In the aftermath of the crash, Tesla has gotten into a public disagreement with the National Transportation Safety Board, the US government agency running the main investigation. Apparently the argument is about how quickly to draw conclusions — Tesla wants to move faster than the NTSB does.
Tesla’s blog for the last month has been on the defensive. The three most recent posts are titled, “What We Know About Last Week’s Accident”, “An Update on Last Week’s Accident”, and “A Not So Revealing Story”.
That last post involves Tesla pushing back against, “an extremist organization working directly with union supporters to create a calculated disinformation campaign against Tesla.” Tesla claims it is building the “safest factory on earth”, whereas Reveal claims, “Tesla has failed to report some of its serious injuries on legally mandated reports, making the company’s injury numbers look better than they actually are.”
I have no idea who to believe in this disagreement. But at the very least it has got to be a grind to be running PR for Tesla right now, and probably for a lot of other employees, as well.
Tim Higgins of the Wall Street Journal, who has been on top of the Tesla beat for quite a while, reported last week that Tesla had temporarily shut down Model 3 production. Tesla has cracked 2,000 Model 3 units per week, but has gotten nowhere near the 5,000 per week it targeted for last year.
Higgins subsequently fielded an unprompted confession from Elon Musk on Twitter:
“Humans are underrated,” is a pretty amazing quote, especially coming from Musk.
Through it all, Tesla’s stock has mostly held.
Valuation is down 25% from the highs of last summer, but this month has been pretty steady, except for a big dip and bounce-back right after the accident.
Tesla, for a time America’s most valuable car company, is now in 2nd place, behind General Motors.
But the fact that a month like this hasn’t sent investors running for the exits is a testament to the quality of the company and its cars.
Did I mention one other thing that happened this month? Popular Mechanics declared the Model 3 its Car of the Year.