Tesla Shareholders Aghast That Full Self Driving May Have Been Unsafe This Whole Time

Tesla press image of the driver's side steering yoke, dashboard and instrument cluster of a Model S.
Tesla press image of the driver's side steering yoke, dashboard and instrument cluster of a Model S.

Tesla shareholders are clutching their pearls all of a sudden, Tesla’s price cuts aren’t working as well as they had been in China anymore and, in related news, Audi sees no value in following Tesla toward an EV price war. All that and more in this Tesla Tuesday edition of The Morning Shift for February 28, 2023.

1st Gear: It Was Only a Matter of Time

Last week, Tesla recalled every one of its cars equipped with its “Full Self-Driving” beta software that grants Level 2 autonomy at the behest of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The recall covers 362,758 vehicles in total, and the NHTSA said it was compelled to issue it based on a variety of safety concerns, stating that FSD software may direct equipped cars to “travel straight through an intersection while in a turn-only lane, enter an intersection with stop signs without coming to a complete stop, or drive through an intersection under a yellow traffic signal without due caution.” Oh, also, it could lead cars to ignore posted speed limits, too.

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This is not the best look for Tesla of course, though it’s not like the recall rendered every FSD-enabled car inoperable; the EV maker is merely required to issue an over-the-air update fixing these issues “in the coming weeks” and, once that happens, everything will presumably be hunky-dory. Tesla investors, though, are absolutely outraged by these developments and are voicing their displeasure in the format of a class-action lawsuit, per Reuters:

In a proposed class action filed in San Francisco federal court, shareholders said Tesla defrauded them over four years with false and misleading statements that concealed how its technologies, suspected as a possible cause of multiple fatal crashes, “created a serious risk of accident and injury.”

They said Tesla’s share price fell several times as the truth became known, including after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began investigating the technologies, and reports that the Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating Musk’s Autopilot claims.

The share price also fell 5.7% on Feb. 16 after NHTSA forced a recall of more than 362,000 Tesla vehicles equipped with Full Self-Driving beta software because they could be unsafe around intersections.

Tesla has said it acquiesced to the recall, though it disagreed with NHTSA’s analysis.

“As a result of defendants’ wrongful acts and omissions, and the precipitous decline in the market value of the Company’s common stock, plaintiff and other class members have suffered significant losses and damages,” the complaint said.

See, these shareholders — arguably the biggest of Tesla boosters — were completely duped. Wool-over-eyes, thrown-for-a-loop duped. Victims of the highest order. They had absolutely no idea what they were getting themselves into, holding shares of a company that had been subject to government inquiry for its semi-autonomous driving software for at least a year and a half. They must not have seen the countless videos on social media of FSD failing at things human drivers don’t dating back well before that, too.

The class is seeking unspecified damages from Feb. 19, 2019 to Feb. 17, 2023 — a time during which the company’s stock jumped from about $21 to $207. Sure, it’s tumbled quite a lot since its $407 peak in November 2021, but it’s not like things haven’t largely trended upward for Tesla and its coattail riders over the past four years. Our thoughts and prayers.

2nd Gear: Meanwhile, In China

Tesla’s deep price cuts in the People’s Republic dating back to the first week of 2023 seemed to boost sales for a bit, but its effect seems to have run out, per another report from Reuters:

The U.S. automaker nearly doubled weekly retail sales in the week of Feb. 20 to 10,703 vehicles versus a week prior, showed data from China Merchants Bank International (CMBI) on Tuesday, which tracks weekly retail sales based on car insurance registrations.

The tally was the highest after that of the week of Jan. 9 when Tesla sold 12,654 Model 3 and Model Y cars after lowering prices by as much as 14% on Jan. 6.

However, year-to-date average daily sales was 1,016 cars, whereas in October and November the figure was 1,317, indicating that price cuts may not be enough to accelerate sales in the first quarter compared with the fourth.

A Shanghai-based analyst quoted by the news agency said that Tesla’s troubles in China may be down to the brand’s aging product range, which sounds logical given the pace of domestic EV production in the country. Also, Tesla’s price cuts may have encouraged shoppers to see if the brand’s competitors will offer big discounts as well, which brings us to...

3rd Gear: Audi Won’t Play Along

Audi is the latest automaker to come out and say it won’t follow Tesla down the dangerous road of price cuts, per Germany’s Automobilwoche by way of Automotive News:

“It would not be the right way to dynamically go up and down with prices,” Audi’s European boss, Jens Puttfarcken, told Automotive News Europe sister publication Automobilwoche.

“A large price reduction always has an impact on residual values,” Puttfarcken said in the report.

In January, Tesla reduced prices for its Model Y and Model 3 cars by between 17 percent and 20 percent.

Audi also will not increase prices even after Volkswagen brand said it will raise the prices of its cars by 4 percent. Audi and VW brands are part of Volkswagen Group.

“We have our very own pricing policy, we take such a step when it is necessary for the Audi brand,” Puttfarcken said.

The Audi Europe boss added that this decision is independent of Volkswagen Group CEO Oliver Blume’s statement in January that the company would ignore Tesla’s pricing behavior, stating that while Audi is in “close coordination” with the Group brass, it doesn’t automatically follow its guidance.

4th Gear: Toyota Executives Think Model Y Is a ‘Work of Art’

If you want to know precisely how far behind Toyota is on the whole EV thing — and how hard it’s working now to catch up — you’ll want to give this story from Automotive News a read. Among other things, it informs us that when Toyota procured a Model Y for its engineers to analyze, they were absolutely blown away:

When engineers at Toyota recently conducted a teardown study of the Tesla Model Y, it did more than expose key technological secrets of the popular American-made, full-electric crossover.

It also tore away a moldering complacency at the Japanese automaker.

What laid underneath the Model Y’s sheet metal was a masterfully simplistic vehicle structure built with an advanced manufacturing prowess that would be the envy of any old-guard automaker.

“Taking the skin off the Model Y, it was truly a truly work of art,” said one Toyota executive who scrutinized the Tesla part by part. “It’s unbelievable.”

Further down, the story — which includes multiple anonymous interviews with Toyota personnel — adds that the automaker recently sent a team from Japan to the U.S. to survey the field of competitor EVs in California:

Engineers at technical centers in North America, Europe and China have been pitching their own visions and needs for the next-generation EV platform since early 2022. Toyoda assigned R&D legend Shigeki Terashi to kick off the EV reboot.

Terashi, 68, is an executive fellow and a former executive vice president who oversaw a wide range of operations, from powertrain and EV development to advanced R&D and supply chain issues.

Sato’s new NEV team, short for “next-generation EV,” traveled to North America from Japan for a three-week EV deep dive. After touring the Chicago Auto Show, they were set to benchmark and drive rival EVs at Toyota’s proving ground in Fowlerville, Mich., before heading to its regional headquarters in Plano, Texas, and then on to EV ground zero in California.

Toss in praises of Tesla’s “manufacturing philosophy” and a call from one nameless employee for a “new platform” for a “blank-sheet EV,” and I’m not sure whether to pity Toyota or just be happy that the alarm’s finally gone off and it’s awake now. Both, I guess.

5th Gear: Let’s All Cool It With Fisker, OK?

Fisker’s stock price ballooned by 30 percent after yesterday’s good news that the company has seen an uptick in new orders for its Ocean electric SUV in recent months, and the fact that the Ocean has been undergoing production for a little while now. In what could very well be the funniest headline I’ll read all week — “Fisker stock jumps 30% on forecast that analyst calls ‘borderline ludicrous’” — at least someone out there quoted by Reuters feels that this sudden adoration for a company that has spent the last three years trying to make the same car may be a bit premature. Courtesy Automotive News:

Fisker reiterated its 2023 production target of 42,400 vehicles with its manufacturing partner Magna Steyr of Austria, despite certain suppliers still facing challenges.

Raymond James analyst Pavel Molchanov called the stock rise “a classic example of a relief rally,” adding, “I think there were some fears that the production startup of the SUV Ocean was getting delayed.”

Molchanov said he expects 2023 production of about 30,000 cars.

Garrett Nelson, an analyst at CFRA Research, said the target was “borderline ludicrous given the struggles of EV peers and Fisker’s production of 56 vehicles so far.”

I don’t know this Garrett Nelson, but he makes a good point. Also, I’m leaning toward giving him the benefit of the doubt anyway for being the first and quite possibly last analyst ever to make me spit out a mouthful of water while writing TMS.

Reverse: You Like Mario Andretti ’Cause He Always Drives His Car Well

Happy birthday to Mario Andretti, who turns 83 today and was born on February 28, 1940. This also happens to be the 10-year anniversary of our old pal Travis Okulski calling him “cooler than you.”

Mario Andretti | American race–car driver

Neutral: It’s Also My Friend Joe’s Birthday

My oldest friend Joe turns 30 today, prompting me to make the same joke I’ve been making in the 23 years I’ve known him, which is that he was actually born on February 29 and therefore is only turning seven-and-a-half today. He hates this, which is fair cause it wasn’t funny the first time. He also professes not to like cars that much, but still owns a first-gen Subaru BRZ and taught himself manual on it, which is pretty cool. Happy 7.5th, Joe!

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