Leaked emails obtained by CNBC reveal that Tesla CEO Elon Musk claims the company is the victim of several acts of sabotage at the hands of employees.
An email allegedly sent by the Tesla CEO at 11:57pm Pacific Time on Sunday night claims that an employee modified code of the Tesla Manufacturing Operating System and sent sensitive internal data to external parties without authorization. The changes were allegedly made using several false user names. The language used in his email to employees makes it clear that Tesla has identified the alleged perpetrator and that “he” has already admitted to some of the sabotage.
By any measure, the Model 3 production ramp is the most important target the company has ever had to deliver on, but looking back over Tesla’s history, just about every product it has brought to market has been on an equally tenuous footing at this stage of its production ramp. With Model 3, even more is on the line at Tesla. Furthermore, the Model 3 is the first of Tesla’s vehicles that could have a noticeable impact on not only Tesla’s bottom line but the bottom line of other major players in the automotive industry and, more importantly, the oil and gas industry.
Tesla has become a beacon of hope for millennials seeking to curb their carbon footprint as a means of averting the disastrous effects of climate change. As such, it stands for far more than the dollars and cents it is generating for its employees and shareholders. Tesla has catalyzed a shift in the entire automotive industry into the electrification of transportation across nearly all market segments, including, most recently, the heavy trucking industry.
Big oil and other automotive companies stand to lose trillions in future revenues if Tesla succeeds, so it is no surprise that Elon Musk is getting a bit paranoid — and also that there may be genuine attempts at sabotage. If his email to employees on Sunday night proves to be true, there could be a genuine conspiracy thrown into this broader Tesla story. However, reports are that the alleged perpetrator claimed his actions were in retaliation for being skipped over for a promotion.
What is the Tesla Manufacturing Operating System?
The alleged sabotage took place in the Tesla Manufacturing Operating System. An operating system is the basic set of software commands that talk to a computer’s hardware and allows applications to run on it. Microsoft’s Windows, Linux, Unix, and Apple’s OS X (which is based on Unix) are all operating systems that run on personal computers and servers.
Deconstructing the name, the Tesla Manufacturing Operating System would be the set of basic commands for Tesla’s manufacturing lines. Modern manufacturing equipment runs on the very same personal computer or server hardware as modern computers, just with different sets of hardware that it interacts with. In Tesla’s case, the hardware would include its vast army of robots.
As the name is so broad, the Tesla Manufacturing Operating System could be the foundational software for all of Tesla’s manufacturing equipment. Just as Tesla has done with its vehicles, this internal sabotage will likely result in the fairly swift implementation of new security checks and balances before code can be changed, as well as new segmentations for the code, preventing the pollution of massive amounts of code and limiting the amount of access any one person can have.
It’s literally the software equivalent of the bureaucracy Elon Musk and Tesla’s leadership are tearing down at the organizational level and will inevitably result in more levels of security, more vetting of changes, and an overall slower internal machine. Not everything traditional companies have done adds value, but insulating critical internal systems from damage from a variety of sources is just good security policy. Having said all that, Tesla did not respond to CNBC’s request for comment on this email.
10 Hours Later, A Fire
Shortly thereafter, the Tesla CEO allegedly sent another email to employees — Monday morning at 9:38am Pacific Time — about a fire in the company’s automotive body welding shop, hinting that the fire might be an act of sabotage. In a statement to CNBC, Tesla confirmed the fire on the body line: “Last night, there was smoldering in an air filter in the welding area of the body line. The smoldering was extinguished in a matter of seconds. There were no injuries or significant equipment damage, and production is back online.”
The fire caused the upstream body production line to shut down for a few hours until the fire could be contained and marks the 5th fire since 2014, most of which were in the paint room. The most recent fire prior to the fire Sunday night was just a few weeks back in April.
Tesla is clearly working against some very real external and internal pressures from nearly all directions. With the current federal government in the United States not just failing to serve its citizens but actively working to extract as much profit as possible in as little time as possible, Tesla increasingly stands for more than just electric vehicles, but also for the good intentions that the United States formerly stood for.
Would more people volunteer to work at Tesla for minimum wage than they would to fight in a proxy war initiated by an immature, racist leader for another country’s oil? I would venture to say that they would. I know I would.
Below is the full text of Elon’s email from Sunday night.
From: Elon Musk
Subject: Some concerning news
June 17, 2018
I was dismayed to learn this weekend about a Tesla employee who had conducted quite extensive and damaging sabotage to our operations. This included making direct code changes to the Tesla Manufacturing Operating System under false usernames and exporting large amounts of highly sensitive Tesla data to unknown third parties.
The full extent of his actions are not yet clear, but what he has admitted to so far is pretty bad. His stated motivation is that he wanted a promotion that he did not receive. In light of these actions, not promoting him was definitely the right move.
However, there may be considerably more to this situation than meets the eye, so the investigation will continue in depth this week. We need to figure out if he was acting alone or with others at Tesla and if he was working with any outside organizations.
As you know, there are a long list of organizations that want Tesla to die. These include Wall Street short-sellers, who have already lost billions of dollars and stand to lose a lot more. Then there are the oil & gas companies, the wealthiest industry in the world — they don’t love the idea of Tesla advancing the progress of solar power & electric cars. Don’t want to blow your mind, but rumor has it that those companies are sometimes not super nice. Then there are the multitude of big gas/diesel car company competitors. If they’re willing to cheat so much about emissions, maybe they’re willing to cheat in other ways?
Most of the time, when there is theft of goods, leaking of confidential information, dereliction of duty or outright sabotage, the reason really is something simple like wanting to get back at someone within the company or at the company as a whole. Occasionally, it is much more serious.
Please be extremely vigilant, particularly over the next few weeks as we ramp up the production rate to 5k/week. This is when outside forces have the strongest motivation to stop us.
If you know of, see or suspect anything suspicious, please send a note to [email address removed for privacy] with as much info as possible. This can be done in your name, which will be kept confidential, or completely anonymously.
Looking forward to having a great week with you as we charge up the super exciting ramp to 5000 Model 3 cars per week!
Will follow this up with emails every few days describing the progress and challenges of the Model 3 ramp.
Thanks for working so hard to make Tesla successful,