Tesla is struggling with thousands of security concerns

Not so long ago, Tesla was worth more than BMW, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Mercedes, Toyota and Volkswagen combined. The market capitalization of the world’s largest electric car manufacturer reached $1.2 trillion in November 2021. Today it is less than half of that. Never before has a company lost so much of its stock market value in such a short period of time. The company has been facing numerous lawsuits over its driver assistance systems, and now a massive amount of internal information has been leaked from the company that suggests Tesla’s Autopilot problems may be even bigger than previously thought. An informant has released 100 GB of data about Tesla, from which you can find out how the otherwise mysterious company works.

The German newspaper Handelsblatt came into his possession more than 23,000 internal files and documents from Tesla after an employee leaked the data. A team of twelve from Handelsblatt spent six months analyzing the files: 1,388 PDF documents, 1,015 Excel spreadsheets and 213 PowerPoint presentations, as well as numerous images, videos, audio files and emails. The data paint a picture of an electric car pioneer that appears to be struggling with far more technical problems than it is admitting. The files contain the personal information of more than 100,000 current and former employees, as well as thousands of reports about problems with Tesla’s driver assistance systems, Autopilot and “full self-driving.” The earliest complaints in the database date back to 2015, and the most recent to March 2022. Most of the complaints come from the United States, although problems from European and Asian customers also appear in the files.

According to the editor-in-chief of the paper, the world is impressed by the story of Tesla’s rise: the excellent software, the innovative battery technology, the factories, which the whole world now calls the “Gigafactory” following the company’s PR term. He believes that without Tesla, the German car industry would probably still be tinkering with diesel technology, and with Tesla, Elon Musk changed the world. But the editor-in-chief says the company may have grown a little too fast. It relied on technologies that showed promise but whose development could not keep up with Musk’s ever-newer promises. All automakers have a tough time with autonomous driving, but there is no leader as promising as Elon Musk. Back in 2016, he stated that autonomous driving is “essentially a solved problem.” He makes similar statements to this day.

The reality, however, is that while Autopilot and FSD have only made headlines in recent years, as early as the mid-2010s there were plenty of reports of Teslas going off on their own. More than 2,400 complaints refer to problems related to sudden, unintended acceleration. In the United States, 232 cases were reported, although, as is often the case, the local National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found no evidence of a hardware or software problem, instead he blamed the manager. More than 1,500 complaints cite braking problems, including 139 cases of phantom braking and 383 cases of phantom stopping. The office launched an investigation into this matter in February 2022, but the problem has not been resolved since then. According to Handelsblatt, there have been more than 1,000 accidents related to brake problems and more than 3,000 posts where customers have reported safety concerns about the driver assistance assistants.

The German publication even took the trouble to contact Tesla owners to confirm the accuracy of the data. For example, a Californian doctor – who wished to remain anonymous – reported to Handelsblatt about an incident that happened in the fall of 2021. He was about to turn into a parking lot when his Tesla suddenly accelerated like a race car. “I tried to steer, but I hit a pole,” the customer recalls. “It fell over, but the car didn’t stop. I drove into another pole, the airbag went off, and I passed out.”

A Swiss man, Thomas Karl, reported dozens of faulty braking attempts to the company between January and October 2021. Karl was a regular customer, having used Teslas for ten years. However, the new Model S blew his fuse, as can be seen from the e-mail correspondence with Tesla. Karl has reported several incidents, for example on July 26, 2021 he wrote that his car was involved in an accident on the Swiss A3 between Flums and Sargans because the vehicle performed an emergency brake. Another customer, Manfred Schon, had a similar experience on the M14 motorway. The former Bosch employee was on his way to a meeting in the US state of Michigan on June 1, 2019, when his Tesla “suddenly slammed on the brakes, as hard as you can imagine,” Schon told Handelsblatt. “I passed out of the seat belt and the car almost stopped. Then another car slammed into me from behind”. Tesla’s files include a number of similar cases in Germany. A customer complained that his Tesla “drove into a center barrier on the freeway.” The reason was the emergency braking of the autopilot. Another reported his Model S to customer service: “Drived into oncoming traffic.”

In addition to customer complaints, the data leak also shows how Tesla responded to these problems: they admitted as little as possible in writing. Each incident’s technical review focuses on key points, and the employees who conduct it make it clear that the report is for “internal use only.” Each entry also contains the bold note that the information can only be conveyed to the client “IN WORDS”, if at all. “Do not copy the report below into an email, text message, or leave a voicemail for the customer,” the report continues. Vehicle data must also not be released without permission. If, despite the advice, “legal involvement cannot be prevented”, this must be recorded.

The general impression of customers interviewed by Handelsblatt is that Tesla employees avoid written communication. “They never sent e-mails, everything was always verbal,” said the California doctor, whose Tesla says it accelerated on its own in the fall of 2021 and crashed into two pillars. The editors sent a comprehensive list of questions to Tesla, which remained unanswered, instead the company demanded the deletion of the data and talked about data theft.

An important question is how conscientiously Tesla handles the data, since the informants were apparently able to access the files without major restrictions, even though the information was far beyond their scope of duties. The Tesla files contain the salaries of 100,000 employees, customer bank details, secret manufacturing data, and even Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s supposed vehicle and social security numbers. According to the research, the structure of the company employing more than 127,000 employees is tailored to one person: Elon Musk. It seems that the company boss has a say in even the smallest things – be it the material of the anode of the battery or the door handles. This is not a problem for a startup, but above a certain size, companies need a different kind of management and IT that protects company secrets and employee data.

Elon Musk can be a brilliant entrepreneur, certainly because he doesn’t care about borders, but if the rights of his employees and the lives of his customers are endangered due to his corporate governance shortcomings, then, according to the newspaper, it would be time to set stricter limits on his power.

Source: SG.hu Hírmagazin – Autó by sg.hu.

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