Tesla told regulators about Autopilot crash nine days after accident

Wed Jul 6, 2016 12:26am EDT
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By Alexandria Sage and Paul Lienert

SAN FRANCISCO/DETROIT (Reuters) - Tesla Motors (TSLA.O: Quote) alerted regulators to a fatality in one of its electric cars in partial self-driving Autopilot mode nine days after it crashed, the company said on Tuesday, defending its decision not to make the accident public before a federal investigation was announced.

Tesla learned about the crash of the Model S sedan in Florida "shortly" after the May 7 crash, and on May 16 it disclosed the incident to the government. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on June 30 announced a probe.

The news comes as the company faces pressure on several fronts. Its bid to buy rooftop solar power company SolarCity has been questioned by investors, and over the U.S. July 4 holiday weekend, it disclosed that second-quarter vehicle production missed company targets.

Autopilot is one of the most advanced and most promoted Tesla technologies and is still in beta or test mode. That has spurred questions - including in an article by Fortune magazine - over whether the company and regulators should have informed the public earlier of the fatality.

On Tuesday, Chief Executive Elon Musk tweeted in response to the article about the timing of the disclosure that the May fatality "wasn't material" to Tesla.

Tesla raised at least $1.46 billion from investors on May 18-19 with a stock offering, as the Autopilot investigation was unfolding.

The company knew of the crash by the time of the capital raising. But its own investigation was not yet complete and it had not yet been informed by the government of its probe, according to a timeline described by a Tesla spokeswoman.

The windshield was ripped off the Model S after it plowed into the side of a truck on a divided highway, and the damage meant the car was unable to transmit data to Tesla. Tesla learned of the accident "shortly thereafter" from local authorities, the spokeswoman said.   Continued...

A Tesla Model S involved in the fatal crash on May 7, 2016 is shown with the top third of the car sheared off by the impact of the collision of the Tesla with a tractor-trailer truck on nearby highway and came to rest in the yard of Robert and Chrissy VanKavelaar in Williston, Florida, U.S. on May 7, 2016.  Courtesy Robert VanKavelaar/Handout via REUTERS