- Tesla cofounder Martin Eberhard said he’s “not a big fan” of autonomous cars.
- He said self-driving cars were not part of Tesla’s mission when he cofounded the company in 2003.
- The Tesla cofounder said it’s a “mistake to think of a car as a software platform.”
Elon Musk has made autonomous driving a top priority at Tesla, but one of the carmaker’s original founders doesn’t approve.
“In my opinion, we need to get out of the habit of thinking about all of these autonomous things as being connected to EVs. They’re separate,” Martin Eberhard, a cofounder of Tesla, told Insider. “I’d like to see people thinking about making cars that people can drive.”
Eberhard, who Musk ousted as CEO of Tesla in 2007, said creating software for the electric cars to drive themselves was the least of his concerns when he was at Tesla.
“So, keep in mind that all this FSD is autonomous, autopilot is crap — none of that existed when I was there,” he said. “We were still busy trying to make the car work and we never thought about that at all. That came later. That required a much, much bigger budget than we had.”
When Eberhard left Tesla in 2007, the company had yet to release its first car. The carmaker was working to develop the Tesla Roadster, a tiny sports car based on the Lotus Elise. The Lotus Elise was a two-seater convertible that the British car company Lotus Cars first sold in 1996.
The Tesla cofounder said that while he appreciates “safety-oriented systems” like driver-assist features, he’s “not a big fan” of autonomous driving. He said Musk appeared preoccupied with autonomous cars and identified that as one of his biggest concerns for Tesla under Musk’s leadership.
Musk has been promising for years that Tesla will put fully autonomous cars on the road. Last year, the billionaire said the carmaker’s self-driving software is the difference between Tesla being worth a lot of money and Tesla being worth almost nothing.
Today, Tesla is known for its over-the-air software updates, and Musk has said that the company “is as much a software company as it is a hardware company.” But Eberhard disagreed with that approach.
“I think it’s a mistake to think of a car as a software platform, you know, like an iPhone or something. It’s not the same,” Eberhard said.
“I have an iPhone and every time I get a software update, there’s bugs in there,” he added. “These mean bugs, for example, that occasionally my news-feed app crashes. That’s not a big deal because it’s just an annoyance on iPhone. But that kind of a bug shows up in the software that controls, for example, my brakes or the steering, it can kill you.”
All current Tesla models come with the carmaker’s Autopilot driver-assist program. Tesla owners can also buy the company’s Full Self-Driving beta feature for $15,000 or through a $199 monthly subscription. The beta feature enables the vehicle to automatically change lanes, enter and exit highways, recognize stop signs and traffic lights, and park. Both programs still require a licensed driver to monitor the system at all times, and Tesla’s AI system collects driver data to improve the system as drivers use it. As of December, over 285,000 people had bought the feature.
Over the past few years, Tesla has come under increased scrutiny from regulators over the self-driving software and the company’s marketing of the services. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating Autopilot and its potential connection to several accidents.
Eberhard and Musk have disagreed in the past. Eberhard filed a defamation lawsuit against Musk in 2009, after Musk started calling himself a Tesla founder and made negative comments about Eberhard. The lawsuit was settled the same year. Since then, the billionaire has criticized Eberhard online.
Musk didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment. Insider’s emails to Tesla’s press line seeking comment weren’t returned.
Read the full Insider interview with Martin Eberhard.
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