Another Tesla Executive Bites The Dust: Company's Autopilot Chief Leaves Amid Model X Crash Fallout

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Continuing with our series of articles over the last couple weeks highlighting new and additional Tesla red flags that have been popping up like they’re a whack-a-mole game at a video arcade, today we bring the latest piece of uninspiring news for Tesla: Autopilot chief Jim Keller has left his position at the company after just two years at the helm.

Bloomberg reported this morning,

Tesla Inc.’s Autopilot chief Jim Keller has left the company, the latest in a rash of executive departures at the electric-car maker led by Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk.

Keller, who joined the auto maker two years ago and has a background in chip development, had his last day as a Tesla vice president on Tuesday, the company said in a statement. He’s going back to semiconductor engineering, Tesla said.

It’s interesting timing as well – Tesla is currently in the midst of an NTSB investigation regarding a fatal Model X crash that had autopilot deployed at the time of the incident. Autopilot has been under significant scrutiny over the last couple of years as incidents continue to pop up that have led Tesla critics to question whether or not auto pilot is safe enough for road use.

The team running Autopilot — Tesla’s assisted-driving system — has experienced turnover amid a fierce war for the engineering talent needed to develop autonomous vehicles. Tesla has been forced to defend the Autopilot after a fatal crash of its Model X on a California highway last month that occurred while the driver had the system engaged.

The auto industry and its regulators are counting on assisted-driving technology to help reduce crashes that lead to tens of thousands of injuries and deaths in the U.S. every year. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the Model X crash, and Tesla’s defense for the Autopilot’s capabilities has come under intense scrutiny.

Tesla’s approach with Autopilot has been to field a suite of driver-assistance features that are continuously improved via over-the-air software updates, building the system toward more advanced autonomous capabilities. Tesla has said that all cars now being made at its factory in Fremont, California, including the Model 3, have the hardwareneeded to one day be fully self-driving.

For those that are unfamiliar with Tesla’s history of executive departures, the company has seen about 50 key VP level and/or C-suite executives departures over the last five or six years. The company has been a revolving door of executives, leaving some to question as to whether or not the “tone of the top” may be one of the company’s biggest problems. 

This departure is about the 7th notable departure for a Tesla executive this year, by this independently managed running tally:


2017 also saw its fair share of departures – nearly 20 by the same count:

We have been reporting diligently on Tesla and all of the troubles it has faced so far in 2018. We will add this departure to our running list, which now stands at:

  1. NTSB investigation that put the company at a public feud with the NTSB

  2. An initial workplace safety investigation by the state of California

  3. second reported workplace safety investigation, reported on Friday

  4. securities fraud class action lawsuit against Musk claiming he knew he was going to miss Model 3 targets for 2017

  5. This contract worker lawsuit

  6. CNBC article detailing poor vetting of suppliers, leading to a pile up of malfunctioned parts

  7. Reports of the company cutting corners as it relates to their pre-owned vehicles

  8. Reveal article alleging the company is underreporting its safety incidents at its Fremont factory

  9. Recent massive recall of 125k Model S sedans

  10. scathing review of the company’s possible future (or lack thereof) in Automotive News by Keith Crain

  11. Harvard Law School blog that seems to side with plaintiffs who have brought suit against Tesla for its acquisition of Solar City

  12. Questions raised about whether or not Tesla is registering excess cars to meet Q1 numbers

  13. Yet another executive departure, the company’s Autopilot Chief 


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