Musk oversaw misleading 2016 video saying Tesla drove itself

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Musk published a blog post on Tesla’s website on October 19, the day before the video went up, that said all Tesla cars from that day forward would ship with the hardware necessary for full self-driving capability. His emails to staff that month discussed the importance of a demonstration drive to promote the system.

Musk’s direct involvement in the video, and subsequent promotion of Tesla vehicles’ abilities to drive themselves, comes at a time when the executive’s reputation and trustworthiness are increasingly at stake. In addition to his Twitter distractions, Musk also promised during Tesla’s Q3 investor call that the automaker would have an “epic end of year,” yet Tesla ended up missing Wall Street Q4 delivery estimates. On top of that, the company’s stock was down 65% in 2022.

Musk is also poised to take the stand this week in a class-action lawsuit from shareholders who say his infamous 2018 tweet claiming that funding had been secured to take the company public — it wasn’t — caused them to lose potentially billions of dollars. The jury will determine whether Musk knowingly, and thus fraudulently, claimed secured funding when it hadn’t been.

‘An amazing Autopilot demo drive’

On October 11, Musk sent an email under the subject line “The Absolute Priority” letting the Autopilot team know that he had canceled his plans for the upcoming weekend to work on the video.

“Just want to be absolutely clear that everyone’s top priority is achieving an amazing Autopilot demo drive,” Musk said in the email, according to Bloomberg. “Since this is a demo, it is fine to hardcode some of it, since we will backfill with production code later in an OTA update,” he wrote, referring to the use of a 3D digital map that the Model X used to follow a pre-determined route.

“I will be telling the world that this is what the car *will* be able to do, not that it can do this upon receipt,” he continued.

Despite that promise, the 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 there for legal reasons. He is not doing anything. The car is driving itself.”

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