© BEN MACMAHON/EPA/SHUTTERSTOCKElon Musk’s ambitious goals for Autopilot technology have prompted safety warnings and resignations
PALO ALTO, Calif.—Tesla Inc. Chief Executive Elon Musk jolted the automotive world last year when he announced the company’s new vehicles would come with a hardware upgrade that would eventually allow them to drive themselves.
He also jolted his own engineering ranks.
Members of the company’s Autopilot team hadn’t yet designed a product they believed would safely and reliably control a car without human intervention, according to people familiar with the matter.
In a meeting after the announcement, someone asked Autopilot director Sterling Anderson how Tesla could brand the product “Full Self-Driving,” several employees recall. “This was Elon’s decision,” they said he responded. Two months later, Mr. Anderson resigned.
In the race to develop autonomous vehicles, few companies have moved faster than Tesla, an electric-car pioneer that this year surpassed General Motors Co. as the nation’s most-valuable auto maker.
Behind the scenes, the Autopilot team has clashed over deadlines and design and marketing decisions, according to more than a dozen people who worked on the project and documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. In recent months, the team has lost at least 10 engineers and four top managers—including Mr. Anderson’s successor, who lasted less than six months before leaving in June.
Tesla said the vehicle hardware unveiled in October will enable “full self-driving in almost all circumstances, at what we believe will be a probability of safety at least twice as good as the average human driver.” The self-driving feature is subject to software development and regulatory approval, and “it is not possible to know exactly when each element of the functionality described” will be available, Tesla noted.
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