Solomon: Musk Goes from Tesla Win to Massive Loss as Automaker Recalls 363,000 Cars


Those who closely follow Elon Musk and Tesla had a strong sense that this was coming. While we regularly see social media memes about Teslas, the reality is that their self-driving features have the potential to kill.

This recall is in response to far less-than-perfect Tesla technology that may have been rolled out too quickly. The report, entitled “Full Self-Driving Software May Cause Crash,” is direct and damning.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the $15,000 software add-on causes Teslas to act “unlawfully” and “unpredictably” — two things we absolutely don’t want in our cars or those of our highway-mates.

How bad is bad here?

The report detailed several potentially fatal Full Self-Driving actions Teslas were found to do, including failure to acknowledge a yellow light, failure to legally stop at a stop sign, or — truly remarkably — driving right through intersections.

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Musk and Tesla apologists will put a fence around today’s recall, arguing that it is limited to the Full Self-Driving feature.

The NHTSA noted that the recall addressed only one set of concerns it had with Full Self-Driving and made it very clear that its investigation will continue, focusing now on Tesla’s Autopilot, which is less autonomous than Full Self-Driving.

It’s easy from the outside to be dismissive and roll our collective eyes at the recall because, of course, this was all rolled out too quickly without proper prototyping, testing and real-life iterations.

But there’s a demand for self-driving cars, so the race is on to see who can do it best. Today’s NHTSA decision will put the focus back on who can also do it the most safely.

Krenar Camili, an experienced New Jersey car accident lawyer, points out that the reputational damage to Tesla could be massive: “We trust the companies that manufacture our cars to deliver a safe product. If the public reads this recall of close to 400,000 as a message that Teslas aren’t safe, that’s hard to recover from.”

Do you think the Full Self-Driving feature is safe?

As I commented on NBC News last year, none of this is theoretical test lab stuff. A horrific Los Angeles Tesla crash claimed the lives of two people when a Tesla Model S ran a red light in Autopilot.

These cases are not the rare exceptions Tesla would have us believe, as evinced by today’s recall. These are foundational issues with the technology Tesla self-identifies as the key differentiator between the company and the growing list of competitors.

Ultimately, the person behind the wheel is responsible for the actions of a self-driving car, as I wrote two years ago. This includes any decisions that the technology empowers the car to make.

Yet, luckily for those of us who drive a Tesla or share the road with Tesla owners, this is a shared responsibility with the manufacturer, as we see today.

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Today’s recall should send a clear message to Elon Musk and Tesla that they can no longer cut corners to get products and features to market before they have been deemed safe beyond any doubt. That clearly hasn’t been how Tesla has been doing business, and that needs to change.

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A Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer, Aron Solomon, JD, is the chief legal analyst for Esquire Digital and 24-7 Abogados. He has taught entrepreneurship at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania and was elected to Fastcase 50, recognizing the top 50 legal innovators in the world. Solomon has been featured in Forbes, CBS News, CNBC, USA Today, ESPN, TechCrunch, The Hill, BuzzFeed, Fortune, Venture Beat, the Independent, Fortune China, Yahoo, ABA Journal,, The Boston Globe, NewsBreak and many other leading publications.