Elon Musk and Tesla Face a Surprise and Tough Opponent

The electric vehicle maker and its CEO face unprecedented attacks on a flagship product for their future.

Elon Musk and Tesla  (TSLA) – Get Tesla Inc. Report are used to being the target of attacks.

But usually these attacks come from other car manufacturers and are mainly intended to indicate that the electric vehicle sector is not just about the brand with the T logo and the Model S, Model 3, Model Y and Model X, the four vehicles currently produced and sold by Tesla.

Attacks by other automotive groups and their executives often also have the merit of shining the spotlight on their perpetrators, which is a good promotional tool for the companies in question. So it’s no surprise that Musk and Tesla ignore them.

However, the billionaire and his company have been facing an unprecedented adversary for several days, whose attacks are likely to tarnish the reputation of their product of the future: the driver-assistance system. 

Early FSD Beta ‘Has Many Known Issues’

This system known as Autopilot comes in two options in Tesla cars: there is Enhanced Autopilot (EAP) which is the standard option and costs $6,000. And there is the more advanced option called Full Self driving, or FSD, which costs $12,000 but as of September 5 it will be $15,000, Musk recently said.

Tesla also offers a very small core of vehicle owners an ultra-advanced option called FSD Beta. The 1,000 or so people (often the group’s employees) have access to  advanced functionalities and agree to inform the car manufacturer of any bugs and incidents encountered. The goal is to help improve the technology.

“Early beta has many known issues. The reason we release it to a limited number of cars is to discover unknown issues,” Musk clarified on August 24 when responding to a criticism from a Tesla investor who complained about the difficulties encountered with FSD Beta.

None of the three available options make Tesla cars autonomous. FSD is, however, seen by Tesla and Musk as the holy grail for the self-driving car that the billionaire has promised to deliver by the end of the year.

“2 main goals this year: Starship to orbit, FSD wide release,” the tech entrepreneur reiterated on August 22.

‘Worst Commercial Software’

But this objective is threatened by an advocacy group The Dawn Project, founded by Dan O’Dowd, the CEO of Green Hills Software, which recently launched a very critical campaign against Tesla and the FSD. 

In a commercial broadcast on TV stations across the country the Dawn Project through O’Dowd’s voice claims that FSD “is ​​the worst commercial software I’ve ever seen”. 

“A hundred thousand Tesla drivers are already using Full Self-Driving on public roads. I’m Dan O’Dowd. I’m a safety engineer. And Tesla Full Self-Driving is the worst commercial software I’ve ever seen — tell Congress to shut it down.”

“Our new safety test of @ElonMusk’s Full Self-Driving Teslas discovered that they will indiscriminately mow down children,” O’Dowd also alleged in a tweet.

His advocacy group therefore is calling on regulators and Congress to shut down FSD until Musk and Tesla demonstrate that their cars equipped with the system won’t mow children down. Indeed, the video shot by the group shows Tesla cars mowing down a child-mannequin in a closed test track.

The campaign has garnered massive backlash from Tesla and Musk fans who have taken to social media to defend the company and its technology. Some Tesla customers have even shot videos showing them in their Tesla with FSD on. Once the vehicle is in motion, it is seen avoiding a child, often the child of the owner of the car. YouTube has removed these videos considering that they violate its content policy, CNBC reported.

Aware that O’Dowd’s campaign is doing damage given the interactions on social media, Tesla has just counterattacked by launching a cease-and-desist letter to The Dawn Project in which the electric vehicle manufacturer says that the campaign is misinformation and that the so-called tests performed by O’Dowd are a misrepresentation of its technology. Consequently, Tesla is asking O’Dowd, among other things, to withdraw the tv ad, to issue a public retraction, to reveal the sources of funding for this campaign or risk being sued.

“It has come to our attention that you, personally, and The Dawn Project have been disparaging Tesla’s commercial interests and disseminating defamatory information to the public regarding the capabilities of Tesla’s Full Self Driving (FSD) (Beta) technology,” Tesla wrote in its cease-and-desist letter.

The WashingPost was first to report about Tesla’s threat to sue The Dawn Project.

‘Master Scammer’

This campaign comes at a bad time for Tesla as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is investigating FSD after numerous crashes. The California DMV has accused Tesla of false advertising where its driver-assistance systems are concerned.

“Master Scammer Musk threatens to sue me over a tv ad,” O’Dowd reacted on Twitter. “Turns out Mr. free speech absolutist is just another crybaby hiding behind his lawyer’s skirt. Guess I hurt his wittle feewings. Now the coward @elonmusk lashes out, sending pawns to fight his fight.”

In a tweet posted Aug. 25, Musk called O’Dowd “crazy.”

O’Dowd is CEO of Green Hills Software, a company that helps industry groups improve the security of their technologies by flushing out bugs and other security flaws. Its automotive customers include Tesla rivals Ford  (F) – Get Ford Motor Company Report, Toyota  (TM) – Get Toyota Motor Corporation Report and Mobileye.

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