Like clockwork, Tesla reported Autopilot safety statistics, once every quarter, starting in 2018. Last year, those reports ceased.
Around the same time, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the nation’s top auto safety regulator, began demanding crash reports from automakers that sell so-called advanced driver assistance systems such as Autopilot. It began releasing those numbers in June. And those numbers don’t look good for Autopilot.
Tesla won’t say why it stopped reporting its safety statistics, which measure crash rates per miles driven. The company employs no media relations department. A tweet sent to Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk inviting his comments went unanswered.
Arizona Department of Public Safety
A Tesla crashed into a police vehicle, which slammed into an ambulance in July 2020 in Cochise County, Ariz. It's one of many Autopilot-related crashes still being investigated by federal safety regulators.
Tesla critics are happy to speak up about the situation, however. Taylor Ogan, chief executive at fund management firm Snow Bull Capital, held a Twitter Spaces event last Thursday to run through his own interpretation of Tesla safety numbers. He thinks he knows why the company ceased reporting its safety record: “Because it’s gotten a lot worse.”
Also last week, NHTSA announced it had added two more crashes to the dozens of automated-driving Tesla incidents that it’s already investigating. One involved eight vehicles, including a Tesla Model S, on the San Francisco Bay Bridge on Thanksgiving Day. Through Friday’s close, Tesla stock has lost 65% of its value this year.
Ogan, using NHTSA crash numbers, Tesla’s previous reports, sales numbers and other records, concluded that the number of reported Tesla crashes on U.S. roads has grown far faster than Tesla’s sales growth. The average monthly growth in new Teslas since NHTSA issued its standing order was 6%, he figures, while comparable crash stats rose 21%.
The Tesla Autopilot crash numbers are far higher than those of similar driver-assistance systems from General Motors and Ford. Tesla has reported 516 crashes from July 2021 through November 2022, while Ford reported seven and GM two.
To be sure, Tesla has far more vehicles equipped with driver-assist systems than the competition — an estimated 1 million, Ogan said, about 10 times as many as Ford. All else equal, that would imply Tesla ought to have a NHTSA-reported crash total of 70 since last summer to be comparable with Ford’s rate. Instead, Tesla reported 516 crashes.
Tesla’s quarterly safety reports were always controversial. They did put Tesla Autopilot in a good light: For the fourth quarter of 2021, Tesla reported one crash per 4.31 million miles driven in cars equipped with Autopilot. The company compared that with government statistics that show one crash per 484,000 miles driven on the nation’s roadways, for all vehicles and all drivers.
But statisticians have pointed out serious analytical flaws, including the fact that the Tesla stats involve newer cars being driven on highways. The government’s general statistics include cars of all ages on highways, rural roads and neighborhood streets. In other words, the comparison is apples and oranges.
None of the statistics, Tesla’s or the government’s, separate out Autopilot from the company’s controversial Full Self-Driving feature. FSD is a $15,000 option that’s more aspirational than its name implies: No car being sold today is fully autonomous, including those with FSD.
Autopilot combines adaptive cruise control with lane-keeping and lane-switching systems on highways. FSD is marketed as advanced artificial intelligence technology that can cruise neighborhood streets, stop and go at traffic lights, make turns onto busy streets and generally behave as if the car drives itself. The fine print, however, makes clear the human driver must be in full control and is legally liable for crashes — including those involving injuries and deaths.
The internet is filled with videos of FSD behaving badly — turning into oncoming traffic, confusing railroad tracks for roadways, running red lights and more.
The number of injuries and deaths involving Autopilot and FSD is unknown — except, perhaps, to Tesla. Publicly available safety statistics about autonomous and semiautonomous vehicles are scarce. Meanwhile, the crash reporting system in the U.S. is rooted in 1960s methodology, and no serious attempt to update it for the digital world appears to be in the works, at NHTSA or elsewhere.
NHTSA’s driver-assist crash statistic collection order, issued in 2021, depends on the car companies for accurate and complete reporting. (Musk has misstated FSD’s safety record in the past, including a claim that the technology had been involved in no crashes, when the public record made clear it had.)
Not all the information sent to NHTSA is available for public scrutiny.
Ogan, who drives an FSD-equipped Tesla, said more public information would allow a lot more transparency into robot car safety, at Tesla and other automakers. Tesla once reported its Autopilot utilization rate but no longer does so. “I’m looking at the only data available,” he said.
The California Department of Motor Vehicles has been investigating whether Tesla is violating its rule against marketing vehicles as fully autonomous when they’re not. Musk has stated clearly that the company plans to develop FSD to create a fully autonomous robotaxi that Tesla owners could rent out for extra cash. He had promised 1 million of them on the road by 2020, but that date came and went and no fully autonomous Tesla exists. The DMV declined to comment.
FSD’s safety and capabilities are, by Musk’s own admission, existential concerns — especially as Tesla stock continues to dive-bomb. In a June interview with Axios, he said that “solving” FSD is “really the difference between Tesla being worth a lot of money and being worth basically zero.”
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Musk starts quietly buying up Twitter shares, building his stake in the company. But it would be months before he disclosed this fact to the public.
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Musk's stake in Twitter tops 5%, but that fact is not disclosed until the following month. Musk was obligated to disclose his stake within 10 days of crossing the 5% threshold, but waited 21 days to do so. During that time, he continued building up his stake.
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The billionaire begins to make pointed statements about the platform from his account. "Twitter algorithm should be open source," he wrote, with a poll for users to vote "yes" or "no."
The following day, Musk tweets out another poll to his followers: "Free speech is essential to a functioning democracy. Do you believe Twitter rigorously adheres to this principle?"
AP Photo/Richard Drew, File
Musk reaches out to Twitter cofounder and former CEO Jack Dorsey to "discuss the future direction of social media," according to a company filing later put out by the company. The two tech founders are known to have a bit of a billionaire bromance on and off Twitter.
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Twitter's board and some of its leadership team meet with representatives from Wilson Sonsini, a law firm, and J.P. Morgan to discuss the possibility of Musk joining the company's board, according a later securities filing. Dorsey is said to have told the board that "he and Mr. Musk were friends," according to the filing.
In the meeting, the Twitter board discussed wanting Musk to agree to "'standstill' provisions"," according to the filing. This would effectively "limit his public statements regarding Twitter, including the making of unsolicited public proposals to acquire Twitter (but not private proposals) without the prior consent of the Twitter Board."
AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu, File
Musk is revealed to be Twitter's largest individual shareholder, with a more than 9% stake in the company.
News of the purchase sends shares of the social media company soaring more than 20% in early trading and kicks off a wave of speculation about how Musk might push for changes on the platform.
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Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal announces Musk will join Twitter's board of directors. "Through conversations with Elon in recent weeks, it became clear to us that he would bring great value to our Board," Agrawal says in a post on Twitter.
As part of the appointment, Musk agrees not to acquire more than 14.9% of the company's shares while he remains on the board. His term on the board is set to go through 2024, according to a regulatory filing.
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Agrawal announces that Musk has decided not to join the board after all. "I believe this is for the best," Agrawal writes in a letter to the Twitter team.
The reversal opens the door for Musk to pursue a greater stake in the company -- and frees him to tweet his many thoughts about the company.
AP Photo/Eric Risberg
Musk stuns the industry by making an offer to acquire all the shares in Twitter he does not own at a valuation of $41.4 billion. The cash offer represents a 38% premium over the company's closing price on April 1, the last trading day before Musk disclosed that he had become the company's biggest shareholder.
"I invested in Twitter as I believe in its potential to be the platform for free speech around the globe, and I believe free speech is a societal imperative for a functioning democracy. However, since making my investment I now realize the company will neither thrive nor serve this societal imperative in its current form. Twitter needs to be transformed as a private company," Musk writes in his offer letter. "Twitter has extraordinary potential. I will unlock it."
AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn
Twitter's board of directors adopts a "poison pill" provision, a limited-term shareholder rights plan that potentially makes it harder for Musk to acquire the company.
AP Photo/Richard Drew
Musk lines up $46.5 billion in financing for the deal, including two debt commitment letters from Morgan Stanley and other unnamed financial institutions and one equity commitment letter from himself, according to a regulatory filing.
The billionaire also reveals that he has not received a formal response from Twitter a week after his acquisition offer. He said he is "seeking to negotiate" a definite acquisition agreement and "is prepared to begin such negotiations immediately" — an apparent reversal from his statement in his acquisition offer letter that it would be his "best and final" offer.
Although he is the richest person in the world, much of Musk's wealth is tied up in Tesla stock, and some followers of the company speculate that it could be challenging for Musk to raise debt against the historically volatile stock.
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Twitter announces that it has agreed to sell itself to Musk in a deal valued at around $44 billion. At a conference later in the day, Musk describes his offer to buy Twitter in characteristically sweeping terms as being about "the future of civilization," not just making money.
At an all-hands meeting that afternoon, Twitter employees raise questions about everything from what the deal would mean for their compensation to whether former US President Donald Trump would be let back on the platform.
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Filings reveal Musk sold $8.5 billion of his Tesla stock in the three days after Twitter board agreed to the sale for an average of $883.09 per share. The filings did not disclose the reason for the sale, but Musk appeared to be raising funds to buy Twitter.
AP Photo/Paul Sakuma
Musk raises another $7 billion in financing for the deal. The new investors include Oracle founder Larry Ellison, cryptocurrency platform Binance and venture capital firm Sequoia Capital, according to a filing.
Musk confirms what many have assumed for weeks: he would reverse Twitter's Trump ban if his deal to buy the company is completed.
"I do think it was not correct to ban Donald Trump, I think that was a mistake," Musk said. "I would reverse the perma-ban. ... Banning Trump from Twitter didn't end Trump's voice, it will amplify it among the right and this is why it's morally wrong and flat out stupid."
AP Photo/John Raoux, File
Musk aims to increase Twitter's annual revenue to $26.4 billion by 2028, up from $5 billion last year, according to a New York Times report, citing Musk's pitch deck presented to investors. To achieve that lofty goal, Musk intends to bolster Twitter's subscription revenue and build up a payments business while decreasing the company's reliance on advertising sales, according to the report.
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Twitter confirms to CNN Business that the platform is pausing most hiring and backfills, except for "business critical" roles, and pulling back on other non-labor costs ahead of the acquisition. In addition, Twitter says general manager of consumer, Kayvon Beykpour, and revenue product lead, Bruce Falck, are leaving the company.
AP Photo/Gregory Bull
Musk tweets that the deal is on hold, linking to a Reuters report from nearly two weeks earlier, about Twitter's most recent disclosure about its amount of spam and fake accounts. The figure cited in the report, however, is in line with prior quarterly disclosures.
"Twitter deal temporarily on hold pending details supporting calculation that spam/fake accounts do indeed represent less than 5% of users," Musk tweeted.
Shares of the social media site plummet after Musk's announcement, dropping more than 10% at market open. Two hours after announcing the hold, Musk says he remains set on purchasing Twitter. "Still committed to acquisition," he wrote.
Later in the day, Musk says his team is testing Twitter's numbers and "picked 100 as the sample size number, because that is what Twitter uses to calculate <5% fake/spam/duplicate."
Hannibal Hanschke/Pool Photo via AP, File
Musk tweets out that Twitter's legal team accused him of breaking a nondisclosure agreement when the billionaire revealed the platform's sample size for automated user checks is allegedly just 100 users.
"Twitter legal just called to complain that I violated their NDA by revealing the bot check sample size is 100! This actually happened," wrote Musk.
AP Photo/Eric Risberg
The standoff over bot accounts continues as Musk exchanges a series of tweets with Agrawal over the issue. After Agrawal carefully explains how Twitter attempts to combat and measure spam accounts, Musk responds with a poop emoji.
Musk follows up with a somewhat more thoughtful question. "So how do advertisers know what they're getting for their money?" Musk asked. "This is fundamental to the financial health of Twitter," he added.
AP Photo/Martin Meissner
Musk announces that his acquisition of Twitter "cannot move forward" until he sees more information about the prevalence of spam accounts, claiming that the social media platform falsified numbers in filings. Without citing a source, he claims in a tweet that Twitter is "20% fake/spam accounts" and suggests Twitter's previous filings with the SEC were misleading.
Later in the day, Musk posts a poll to his Twitter followers: "Twitter claims that >95% of daily active users are real, unique humans. Does anyone have that experience?" before calling on the SEC to evaluate the platform's numbers. "Hello @SECGov, anyone home?" Musk tweets, in an apparent attempt to get the regulator to look into the matter.
In a statement, Twitter says it remains "committed to completing the transaction on the agreed price and terms as promptly as practicable." Later, the company says it intends to "enforce the merger agreement."