Science & Tech

Tesla’s biggest controversies, from mass recalls to Super Bowl ads

Musk says what's happening with Tesla shouldn't be called a recall

Elon Musk is never far away from controversy, and Tesla has faced its fair share of scandals in its time.

The CEO has helped to build it into one of the biggest tech companies of the past 20 years, but it’s not been without complications.

In fact, Tesla – the name perhaps most associated with electric cars and the future of self-driving vehicles – has had to overcome bumps in the road on more occasions than many might realise.

From product recalls to lawsuits and nightmare product reveals, there’s been all sorts for the board to contend with, and things are showing no signs of slowing down in 2023, either.

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These are the biggest controversies that have faced Tesla over the years.

2023 mass recall

Christian Marquardt - Pool/Getty Images

The most recent scandal Tesla has faced is the forced recall of 362,758 electric vehicles with its experimental Full Self-Driving Beta package, just three months after the company introduced it to drivers in North America.

The software’s issues included not fully stopping at a stop sign-controlled intersection, travelling straight through an intersection when in a turn-only lane, and not adhering to a yellow traffic signal in an intersection.

According to a recall notice posted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the FSD Beta system may cause the vehicles to crash by allowing them to “act unsafe around intersections, such as traveling straight through an intersection while in a turn-only lane, entering a stop sign-controlled intersection without coming to a complete stop, or proceeding into an intersection during a steady yellow traffic signal without due caution.”

The notice also states that the vehicles may have problems responding to “changes in posted speed limits.”

Musk tweeting about taking Tesla private

Getty Images

One of the most long standing controversies was finally settled in February 2023, when a California jury cleared Musk of wrongdoing over 2018 tweets in which he declared that he had the financing to take Tesla private.

The billionaire was found not liable by the jury in a San Francisco federal court in a class action securities fraud case brought by Tesla shareholders who alleged that his actions had cost them tens of millions of dollars.

“Thank goodness, the wisdom of the people has prevailed! I am deeply appreciative of the jury’s unanimous finding of innocence in the Tesla 420 take-private case,” Musk quickly tweeted.

Musk had told the jury that his 2018 tweet about taking Tesla private at $420 a share was “not a joke” and had nothing to do with marijuana. The term “420” is commonly used slang for marijuana.

And he testified in court that when he tweeted about taking Tesla private, he believed that he had funding secured after meeting with officials from Saudi Arabia’s Investment Fund.

Super Bowl advert

There was an advertisement shown during the Super Bowl featuring Tesla cars – but it wasn’t exactly the promotional clip that Musk would have had in mind.

The billionaire CEO responded to an ad organised by one of Tesla’s biggest critics shown during the game which showed a Tesla car crashing and “killing children”.

Dan O’Dowd, a tech entrepreneur from California who is campaigning against the Tesla self-driving cars, was the one behind the clip. The 66-year-old believes the cars are a danger to others on the roads.

It shows an ad of a self-driving Tesla 3 car ignoring a school bus’s warning lights and crashing into a child mannequin, hitting a pram and speeding past no-entry signs.

Musk smoking marijuana on camera

In a September 2018 interview with Joe Rogan, Musk was filmed smoking marijuana. The interview took place in California where marijuana is legal. However, the clip soon went viral and caused the Tesla stock price to temporarily fall nine percent overnight.

Allegations that Tesla had discriminated against Black workers

Tesla was forced to respond to California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) suing the company for discriminating against Black workers in 2022. They also accused the company of ignoring complaints from Black workers who claimed they were subjected to racist slurs.

Kevin Kish, who is the director of DFEH, said at the time: “The facts of this case speak for themselves.”

Tesla defended itself against the allegations, by writing in a blog post in February 2022, stating: “Tesla strongly opposes all forms of discrimination and harassment and has a dedicated Employee Relations team that responds to and investigates all complaints. We also have a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion team whose work is shown in this public report.”

It added: “Therefore strains credibility for the agency to now allege, after a three-year investigation, that systematic racial discrimination and harassment somehow existed at Tesla. A narrative spun by the DFEH and a handful of plaintiff firms to generate publicity is not factual proof.”

The infamous Cybertruck incident

Tesla CyberTruck Glass Failed - Embarrassed Elon

Perhaps the most famous incident in Tesla’s history came back in 2019, during the launch of the Cybertruck – which still hasn’t been released to the general public.

Musk and his co-presenter was attempting to demonstrate the strength of the model’s windows by throwing a solid metal ball at the “Armor Glass”.

Rather than bounce off harmlessly, the ball cracked and Musk was left standing in front of the crown in awkward silence.

“Oh my God. Well, maybe that was a little too hard,” Musk said, before adding: “Room for improvement.”

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