Tesla is cutting its personnel, and 200 employees working on its Autopilot driver assist feature have now found themselves out of a job.
Bloomberg reports Tesla has shuttered its office in San Mateo, California, where 200 mostly hourly employees worked.
Many of these employees worked on data annotation, where they reviewed and labelled visuals collected from Tesla vehicles to help train the Autopilot system to handle particular road scenarios.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk had said earlier this month he had a “super bad feeling” about the economy and needed to cut staff by 10 per cent, clarifying last week this would apply only to salaried workers.
He also added he expected the number of hourly employees to grow by next year, and that the overall reduction in the company’s workforce would work out to be around 3.5 per cent.
The company’s share price was down to US$685.47 at the close of trade on June 29, down from a height of $1199.78 in January
A laid-off employee told Reuters the employees had been previously told they’d move to an office in Palo Alto, but were “blindsided” when they were instead made redundant this week.
The office previously had 350 employees, some of whom had been recently transferred to another office.
Tesla now employs around 100,000 people globally, and has factories in China, Germany and the US.
Its new factories in Berlin and Austin, Texas have only come online this year, and Musk hasn’t minced words, calling them “gigantic money furnaces” losing billions of dollars.
Musk controversially sent a company-wide email in June telling employees working remotely that if they didn’t show up to their office and work a minimum of 40 hours per week there “we will assume you have resigned”.
The Information subsequently reported employees returning to Tesla’s Fremont, California facility found there weren’t enough desks or parking spaces and, perhaps most embarrassingly for a tech company, they couldn’t get a strong wi-fi signal.
Some recent cuts have reportedly included not only human resources representatives, but also software engineers, with Tesla again engendering controversy by including among its wider layoffs the president of its LGBTQ+ community and a lead involved in diversity and inclusivity programs.
The laying off of employees working on Autopilot technology comes after a series of well-publicised crashes involving Teslas claimed to be driving with Autopilot on.
Findings have yet to be released regarding these two local crashes, while a probe by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was opened into Autopilot last August.
The NHTSA is investigating 12 crashes involving the driver assist system.
11 of these involved a Tesla colliding with an emergency vehicle parked on the road, while a 12th involved a parked Florida Department of Transportation truck responding to a previous crash on a highway.
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In one of these crashes, the driver was allegedly playing with his phone, while in two of the other crashes the drivers were allegedly driving under the influence. Most of the crashes also took place at night.
No deaths were reported in these 12 cases, however the NHTSA is also probing a July 26, 2021 crash that took place in New York and resulted in the death of a pedestrian.
52-year old Jean Louis was attempting to fix a flat tyre on his vehicle on the Long Island Expressway when he was struck by a driver in a Tesla believed to have been using Autopilot.
Meanwhile the US government agency responsible for road road safety reported 392 crashes attributable to ‘SAE Level 2’ driver-assist active safety functions between July 2021 and May 2022.
Two-thirds of these Level 2 ADAS incident reports, or 273 to be exact, involved Teslas, although there’s a caveat to why the brand accounted for so many of the accidents. This was followed by Honda (90) and Subaru (10).
Before reading too much into the abundance of Tesla incidents, the NHTSA has cautioned that the data had limitations, stating that “crash data recording and telemetry capabilities may vary widely by manufacturer and driving automation system”.
“Due to variation in data recording and telemetry capabilities, the Summary Incident Report Data should not be assumed to be statistically representative of all crashes,” it said.
Building on this was National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chair Jennifer Homendy, who told Reuters that “Tesla collects a huge amount of high-quality data, which may mean they’re overrepresented in NHTSA’s release”.