The federal investigation into Tesla Inc.’s Autopilot comes at an awkward time for Elon Musk. On Thursday – just three days after the U.S. government announced its probe – he has a briefing scheduled about the carmaker’s work on artificial intelligence.
While invitations to Musk’s AI Day tout “an inside-look at what’s next for AI at Tesla beyond our vehicle fleet,” autonomous driving is almost sure to come up. In several tweets over the last several months, Musk has described AI as pivotal to rendering cars capable of roaming roads without human intervention.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s investigation of Teslas on Autopilot colliding with vehicles at crash scenes risks detracting from Musk’s messaging. The regulator said Monday it was opening a probe after 11 incidents over the last 3 1/2 years that resulted in 17 injuries and one fatality.
Tesla shares plunged as much as 5.7%, their biggest intraday drop in more than three months. The shares are negative again for the year after closing last week up 1.6%.
Musk often makes statements during Tesla events that gin up excitement about the company’s prospects. During an Autonomy Day briefing in 2019, he said Tesla would have 1 million robotaxis on the road by mid-2020. The prediction that the company’s cars would be fully capable of driving themselves and earning money for their owners when placed into a shared network hasn’t materialized.
Days after that event, Tesla raised more than $2 billion after Musk told investors in a private call that autonomy would be “transformative” and predicted the carmaker could become a half-trillion-dollar company. That panned out — Tesla’s market capitalization peaked at almost $837 billion in January of this year, though it has dropped back to about $686 billion.
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