Tesla breakup with Mobileye turns ugly

Dana Hull

The public breakup between Tesla Motors Inc. and Mobileye NV took a turn for the worse as the Israeli company said it “expressed safety concerns regarding the use of Autopilot hands-free” to Elon Musk, the automaker’s chief executive officer.

Mobileye cut its ties with Tesla after failing to agree on “necessary changes in the relationship,” according to a statement Friday by the Jerusalem-based provider of image-sensing technology. That came a day after Tesla accused the supplier of trying to block its in-house efforts to develop vision capability for cars.

Tesla’s driver-assistance features, which the company calls Autopilot, have been under intense scrutiny in the wake of a fatal crash in Florida on May 7.Probes of the accident by the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are continuing. After two other non-fatal accidents, Consumer Reports called on Tesla to require drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel and to change the feature’s name to avoid confusion.

“Tesla’s response to the May 7 crash, wherein the company shifted blame to the camera, and later corrected and shifted blame to the radar, indicated to Mobileye that Mobileye’s relationship with Tesla could not continue,” the supplier said. “As for Tesla’s claim that Mobileye was threatened by Tesla’s internal computer vision efforts, the company has little knowledge of these efforts other than an awareness that Tesla had put together a small team.”

All Tesla vehicles built since October 2014 — a fleet of more than 90,000 cars worldwide — have Autopilot, which drivers have to actively engage. The features themselves were announced with great fanfare last fall.

Tesla’s View

Tesla said Thursday that Mobileye tried to force it to abandon efforts to develop its own image-sensing capabilities and demanded that the maker of electric cars pay more for a continuing supply of some hardware. When Tesla refused, Mobileye halted hardware support for future platforms and released public statements implying the discontinuance was motivated by safety concerns, according to the Palo Alto, California-based automaker.

The breakup was first announced in July, when Mobileye said its cooperation with Tesla wouldn’t extend beyond the EyeQ3 product.

Scrutiny around Autopilot is heightened in part because the U.S. government is drafting guidelines, expected to be released this month, for automakers racing to bring fully self-driving cars to market. While Ford Motor Co. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google espouse an all-or-nothing approach, Tesla has introduced Autopilot in “beta” form for continuous improvement and frequent over-the-air software updates. Version 8.0 of the Autopilot software is rolling out to customers next week.

Radar Emphasis

During an announcement about the improved software Sunday, Musk said its emphasis on radar over cameras might have saved the life of Joshua Brown, who died in the Florida crash. Germany’s Robert Bosch GmbH supplies Tesla’s radar system.

“Mobileye has commented fully on its relationship with Tesla and will not provide further comment,” said the company in the statement. “Mobileye’s deeply held view is that the long-term potential for vehicle automation to reduce traffic injuries and fatalities significantly is too important to risk consumer and regulatory confusion or to create an environment of mistrust that puts in jeopardy technological advances that can save lives.”

With assistance from Chris Cooper