Elon Musk Reportedly Claims 'Extensive And Damaging Sabotage' By Tesla Employee

Photo: Paul Sancya/AP
Photo: Paul Sancya/AP

In a bizarre email sent out on Sunday, Elon Musk apparently claimed a Tesla employee sabotaged the company’s manufacturing operations and leaked sensitive information to third parties. On top of that, CNBC reports, the billionaire sent another email on Monday implying that someone may have intentionally started a fire on the production line.

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Tesla’s been having a hell of a time trying to meet its production goals for the company’s most important vehicle, the Model 3. On top of that, the financial outlook hasn’t been so hot, vehicle quality has been questionable, and the company had to lay off quite a few workers recently. But those are apparently not the only woes Tesla is struggling with right now, as CEO Elon Musk reportedly sent an email claiming sabotage by an employee. Jalopnik could not verify its provenance as of publication, but multiple outlets have reported it. We will update when we hear more.

In the email, pasted below, Musk says he was “dismayed to learn this weekend about a Tesla employee who had conducted quite extensive and damaging sabotage to our operations.”

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This sabotage, he claims, included changing code that affects the company’s manufacturing system, and also exporting lots of sensitive data to “unknown third parties.”

The email goes on, stating that there is a “long list of organizations that want Tesla to die,” mentioning “Wall Street short-sellers,” as well as “oil & gas companies,” and “big gas/diesel car company competitors.”

The email ends by asking employees to remain vigilant and to report suspicious activity. Here’s the email in full, courtesy of CNBC which claims that multiple Tesla employees have confirmed the email’s authenticity:

From: Elon Musk

To: Everybody

Subject: Some concerning news

June 17, 2018

11:57 p.m.

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,

Elon

In a subsequent email with the same “Some concerning news” subject, it appears that Musk implies that a recent fire on the body-and-white assembly line might have been caused by a Saboteur (Musk admits that he might just be a bit paranoid). Here’s the full email, again via CNBC:

From: Elon Musk

To: Everybody

Subject: Some concerning news

June 18, 2018

9:38 a.m.

Late last night we had another strange incident that was hard to explain. Small fire on the body-in-white production line. No one was in the area and there were no injuries or significant equipment damage, but it was enough to stop the body production line for several hours.

Could just be a random event, but as Andy Grove said, “Only the paranoid survive.” Please be on the alert for anything that’s not in the best interests of our company. If you aren’t getting a response from the emdesk email, please send me a note directly.

Thanks,

Elon

Both of the emails are a bit strange, particularly the one in which Musk goes so far as to mention companies that “want Tesla to die.” We’ve reached out to Tesla to learn more, and will update this article when we do.

Sr. Technical Editor, Jalopnik. Always interested in hearing from auto engineers—email me. Cars: Willys CJ-2A ('48), Jeep J10 ('85), Jeep Cherokee ('79, '91, '92, '00), Jeep Grand Cherokee 5spd ('94).

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DISCUSSION

A few random thoughts about this story:

1) Sabotage

Yes, it’s conceivable that there has been some sabotage by staff. In a large organization like Tesla, there will inevitably be corners where resentments fester, and people make ... counterintuitive choices. I lived through a period of time where a former employer lost control of things, and several projects were undermined for individual gain. It wasn’t pretty, and unfortunately the organization never did take the needed steps to terminate the people who fostered the problem.

2) Culture

However, the executive need to take this as something they own. If you have employees engaging in sabotage, the first question you should ask yourself as a leader is “what did I do wrong?”. I don’t see any of that in Musk’s e-mail (although frank, I don’t expect that from Musk, given some of his other communications).

3) Paranoia

A ton of what he says in the middle of that e-mail about external actors who “want Tesla to die”, smacks of straight up paranoia. That kind of thinking at the top of a company is incredibly dangerous for the overall well-being of the enterprise. This, more than anything else, will contribute to making the workplace toxic. (which will, unfortunately, further degrade the culture, contributing ultimately to an increase in the likelihood of further sabotage.)