Tesla CEO Elon Musk Fires Back Against 'BS' Reports After Autopilot Crash

Two articles questioned why the automaker didn't tell shareholders sooner.

ByALYSSA NEWCOMB
July 7, 2016, 2:40 PM

— -- Tesla CEO Elon Musk is defending the automaker's handling of a fatal crash involving its autopilot feature after two reports questioned why it took Tesla nearly two months to publicly disclose the collision.

Two Fortune articles suggested the May 7 crash was "material" information investors should have been privy to when Musk and Tesla sold $2 billion in shares nearly two weeks later.

Musk first dismissed the articles in a tweet on Tuesday, calling them "BS." Tesla followed up on Wednesday with a blog post titled "Misfortune," detailing what it knew and when after the crash, which killed 40-year-old Joshua Brown. The automaker also said Fortune "mischaracterized" its SEC filing and said the crash was not a "material" event.

"One of the risks facing Tesla (or any company) is that someone could bring product liability claims against it. However, neither at the time of this SEC filing nor in the several weeks to date has anyone brought a product liability claim against Tesla relating to the crash in Florida," read Tesla's blog post.

Tesla also said Fortune assumed it was aware of the details of the crash, which Tesla said was a "physical impossibility" because of the damage to Brown's Model S.

"When Tesla told NHTSA [the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] about the accident on May 16th, we had barely started our investigation. Tesla informed NHTSA because it wanted to let NHTSA know about a death that had taken place in one of its vehicles," the automaker said in its statement. "When Fortune contacted Tesla for comment on this story during the July 4th holiday, Fortune never asked any of these questions and instead just made assumptions. Tesla asked Fortune to give it a day to confirm these facts before it rushed its story to print. They declined and instead ran a misleading article."

Fortune said it stands by its reporting and both articles.

On May 7, Brown was driving his Model S on a divided highway in Florida using the autopilot when a tractor-trailer drove across the highway perpendicularly to the Model S, according to a statement released by Tesla and the police report.

"The high ride height of the trailer, combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact, caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S," the statement said.

Tesla's autopilot radar tunes out things such as overhead road signs in order to avoid "false braking events," Musk said on Twitter. Neither Brown nor the autopilot system noticed the white side of the tractor-trailer against the bright sky, the company said.

The circumstances surrounding the crash were "extremely rare," according to the automaker. Tesla has informed drivers that its technology is not perfect and that they should always keep their hands on the wheel.

The NHTSA has opened an investigation into the autopilot system on the Tesla Model S sedan.

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