Tesla privately admits Elon Musk has been exaggerating about ‘full self-driving’

Photo by Britta Pedersen-Pool/Getty Images

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been overstating the capabilities of the company’s advanced driver assist system, the company’s director of Autopilot software told the California Department of Motor Vehicles. The comments came from a memo released by legal transparency group PlainSite, which obtained the documents from a public records request.

It was the latest revelation about the widening gap between what Musk says publicly about Autopilot and what Autopilot can actually do. And it coincides with Tesla coming under increased scrutiny after a Tesla vehicle without anyone in the driver’s seat crashed in Texas, killing two men.

“Elon’s tweet does not match engineering reality per CJ. Tesla is at Level 2 currently,” the California DMV said in the memo about its March 9th conference call with Tesla representatives, including the director of Autopilot software CJ Moore. Level 2 technology refers to a semi-automated driving system, which requires supervision by a human driver.

In an earnings call in January, Musk told investors that he was “highly confident the car will be able to drive itself with reliability in excess of human this year.” (It would appear the DMV was referring to these January comments, which Moore misunderstood as a tweet from Musk.)

Last October, Tesla introduced a new product called “Full Self-Driving” (FSD) beta to vehicle owners in its Early Access Program. The update enabled drivers to access Autopilot’s partially automated driver assist system on city streets and local roads. The early access program is used as a testing platform to help iron out software bugs. In the DMV memo, Tesla said that as of March 9th there were 824 vehicles in the pilot program, including 753 employees and 71 non-employees.

Musk has said the company was handling the software update “very cautiously.” Drivers still are expected to keep their hands on the steering wheel and should be prepared to assume control of their Tesla at any time. But he has also offered lofty predictions about Tesla’s ability to achieve full autonomy that conflict with what his own engineers are saying to regulators.

Tesla is unlikely to achieve Level 5 (L5) autonomy, in which its cars can drive themselves anywhere, under any conditions, without any human supervision, by the end of 2021, Tesla representatives told the DMV.

The ratio of driver interaction would need to be in the magnitude of 1 or 2 million miles per driver interaction to move into higher levels of automation. Tesla indicated that Elon is extrapolating on the rates of improvement when speaking about L5 capabilities. Tesla couldn’t say if the rate of improvement would make it to L5 by end of calendar year.

This isn’t the first time that Tesla’s private communications with the DMV have contradicted Musk’s public declarations about his company’s autonomous capabilities. In March, PlainSite published communications from last December between Tesla’s associate general counsel Eric Williams and California DMV’s chief of the autonomous vehicles branch, Miguel Acosta. In it, Williams notes that “neither Autopilot nor FSD Capability is an autonomous system, and currently no comprising feature, whether singularly or collectively, is autonomous or makes our vehicles autonomous.” In other words, Tesla’s FSD beta is self-driving in name only.

(Al Prescott, acting general counsel at Tesla, was also involved in the December meeting with the DMV. Prescott has since left Tesla for LIDAR maker Luminar.)

Tesla and Musk have long been criticized for overstating the capabilities of the company’s Autopilot system, which in its most basic form can center a Tesla vehicle in a lane and around curves and adjust the car’s speed based on the vehicle ahead. The use of brand names like Autopilot and FSD has also helped contribute to an environment in which Tesla customers are misled into believing their vehicles can actually drive themselves.

There have been a number of fatal crashes involving Tesla vehicles with Autopilot enabled. The latest took place in Spring, Texas, in which two men were killed after their Tesla smashed into a tree. Local law enforcement said there was no one in the driver’s seat at the time of the crash, leading to speculation that the men were misusing Autopilot. Later, Tesla claimed that Autopilot was not in use at the time of the crash and someone may have been in the driver’s seat, too.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are both investigating the crash, in addition to dozens of other incidents involving Tesla Autopilot. Tesla didn’t respond to a request for comment, likely because the company has dissolved its press office and typically doesn’t respond to media requests anymore.


Really? I thought he said Tesla is capable of ‘full self-driving’ for the past 7+ years.

A Tesla fanboy will be here in a minute to tell you about all the data the cars collect that they didn’t process yet or something like that

I’m a Tesla fanboy, at least by the definition of the internet… Which literally just means I own one and like it a lot.

But Musk is a blow hard thay annoys me more each passing week.

Exactly, he founded these companies, but runs them like an oil baron. This technically gets things done, sometimes, and while treating humans as pawns… But at the end of the day it’s the collection of engineers and designers that gathered around the message that created the stuff people actually like. He’s odd personality is both a bolster and a blemish on the brand.

Musk isn’t a founder of Tesla.

He’s successfully rewritten history. I keep seeing him mentioned as founder.

He actually has done just that.

He technically isn’t a founder in the sense that you or I would think of one, but he was an early investor and through various court cases and agreements signed with the "actual" founders, Elon Musk basically acquired the right to call himself a co-founder, and the people who are the original founders of Tesla are not allowed to contradict him.

Elon Musk basically acquired the right to call himself a co-founder.

Yes, he bought the title. It still doesn’t actually make him a founder in the traditional usage of the word (y’know… having been part of the company when it was founded).

Yes, that’s basically what I said.

i would argue that he is the founder. By the time he joined the company, nothing has been done and if he started new company, result would probably be the same. So while he isn’t founder in lawyers way, he is a founder in a practical way

That’s… that’s not what a founder is.

Actually, it often is. You may be surprised, but the notion of "late co-founders" is pretty common – I was one myself at a start I joined several years after its original start. When I joined, it was to help pivot / reinvent the company, and the co-founders we’re happy to include me as a "late co-founder" which was reflected both in communications and ownership (stock), as well as in how they treated me with respect to leading the company.

The notion they only the "original" founders are the "true" founders is just a naive misunderstanding. Many companies go through major changes/reboots especially in their early days, and this means the founders of the original business are not always the same as those who get credit for what the company actually becomes.

We already have a word for that though: Partner. You become a partner when you join the owners at a later date. Being a founder has nothing to do with how much of the company you own.

Get things sometimes?? Every one of his goals have not been met in the crazy time-frame he envisions but they have been achieved.
Collection people working to achieve stuff yes you’ve successfully described a Company.

According to a recent market survey by Escalent, that’s true of Tesla owners in general. Musk isn’t a plus when it comes to why people buy the car, except to the extent that any features might be there as a result of his work, but it’s the features that sell the cars. Musk actually ended up on the list of negatives for people considering the car.

Musk does have fans, and there’s overlap between them and the Tesla customer base, but people like the cars because they exceed the expectations of buyers, and it’s true in the long term.

The notion that someone who buys the car and likes it couldn’t be trusted to give an opinion is absurd, and that’s what people who say fanboy are doing.

Of course buyers are disappointed when some updates are way behind schedule. But it’s the countless updates that were never promised but we keep getting anyway that makes a six year old car have the latest features in most ares, depending on the options purchased.

I’m a Tesla fanboy
But Musk is a blow hard thay annoys me

I think you’re just an adult with preferences lol you don’t sound like a fanboy to me.

Agreed. Once the hype bubble breaks and we can see it happening there isn’t much behind it. Time to short everything he’s involved in except SpaceX, it has the most solid footing as a business.

Please, don’t short cult stocks. Tesla stock ain’t doing great this year but, against all possible logic, it still hasn’t crashed back down to reality. Seems too risky a proposition IMO.

Now the self driving bullshit is exposed, Tesla is just a low quality second tier car company. The traditional car companies are going to eat them for breakfast.

But when does the stock reflect this? It still doesn’t show it. This is why I don’t recommend shorting. It’s just so risky.

I know what you mean, it’s a hype stock so it’s not really connected to the fundamentals.. or reality.. so me trying to use logic is a poor strategy. Over the longer term I think it’ll slide after a few more false dawns and I want to put my money where my mouth is.

You probably have heard or read this a million times already, but let’s write it once more: "Market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent"

Besides, shorting is just gambling with stocks. Just put everything on red, it will be easier

But I don’t get the same level of schadenfreude and that’s what my petty ego wants.

Yeah it’s so disconnected from reality that it’s actually frightening.

They’ve processed it. Billions of miles of data. They are ten years ahead of the competition and the cars could drive you from Alaska to Russia. The only thing stopping Tesla now is the regulators.


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