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WSJ casts negative light on Tesla’s Autopilot ambitions

The Wall Street Journal came out today with a report (paywall) painting a dire picture of Tesla’s Autopilot program.

The publication claims that CEO Elon Musk’s ambitious goals for the program have led to some employees resignations and doubts about the company’s ability to deliver on those goals.

Based on unnamed sources, WSJ claims that the decision to say that Autopilot 2.0 will enable full self-driving capability wasn’t well received:

“In a meeting after the announcement, someone asked Autopilot director Sterling Anderson how Tesla could brand the product “Full Self-Driving,” several employees recall. “This was Elon’s decision,” they said he responded. Two months later, Mr. Anderson resigned.”

The rest of the report revolved more around the first generation of the Autopilot and hurdles to bring the technology to market.

They claim that the Autopilot team lost “at least 10 engineers and four top managers” in recent months. We reported on several computer vision experts leaving the group in June and software executive Chris Lattner left a month before.

Musk refused to comment on WSJ’s report. Instead, he shared his dissatisfaction with previous Journal articles:

“While it is possible that this article could be an exception, that is extremely unlikely, which is why I declined to comment,”

The WSJ has been critical of Tesla in the past and of EVs in general.

Electrek’s Take

There’s actually not a lot of this report relevant to Tesla’s Autopilot program today. While there’s no doubt that there has been a lot of turnover in the team, Tesla says that it grew by 35 employees to now more than 100 people in hardware and software.

Most sources are unnamed, but the only one that WSJ actually discloses is Evan Nakano, who work on the first generation of Autopilot for 8 months before leaving the automaker before the launch in 2015

They also give examples of the first generation Autopilot malfunctioning during testing back in 2015 before the launch.

That’s hardly a surprise. Early builds have problems. They don’t even have to go back to the pre-launch version of the Autopilot to find glitches. It still has bugs today, which is why drivers are required to monitor the system at all time.

The biggest concern raised in the article is whether or not Tesla can deliver on its ‘full self-driving’ promise with the Autopilot 2.0 hardware.

But Tesla has always been clear that they are still working on the software and that regulatory approval will be required to push a software update with full self-driving capability to its fleet.

Furthermore, Musk has also warned that the system might need an upgrade to achieve level 5 autonomous driving and as we recently reported, Tesla released a new Autopilot ‘2.5’ hardware suite with more computing power for autonomous driving earlier this month.

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