One of the most interesting highlights of the 2021 Tesla Annual Meeting this week was Elon Musk’s continued focus on safety. I think it’s safe to even call it an obsession.
It’s highly ironic. The biggest myths and concerns in the media and among the general public about Tesla are misguided safety concerns. They are often genuine concerns — not manufactured attacks — but are misguided nonetheless. I’ll come back to these concerns in a moment, but let’s start with the highlights from the annual meeting.
Tesla Factory Safety 18% Better Than Average, Goal Is To Have Safest Factory
First of all, Elon Musk highlighted that Tesla factory safety has improved considerably as Tesla has scaled up and matured as a company. He pointed out that Tesla factory safety was 18% higher than the automotive industry average. In other words, Tesla factory workers get hurt less.
Furthermore, Elon said I think for the first time that Tesla aims to have the safest factory in the world. A fan of superlatives, he doesn’t want Tesla to just be good or above average — he wants Tesla to get another #1 under its belt. Though, this time, it’s not about the quickest car, the top selling car, the longest range electric car, or anything else in the “bragging rights for customers” category. Nope — Elon just really wants to have and be able to say they have the safest factory in the industry.
Elon mentioned that they are trying to design and develop the safest ATV (4-wheeler). ATVs are not very safe, but Elon is looking for ways to truly improve on their safety.
Johnna already wrote about this. Again, though, it stood out to me during the annual meeting and is one of the things that stimulated this article. It’s just such a strange focus area. The ATV itself is not really that notable to me. But the fact that with such a limited-impact and sporty product, Tesla is highlighting safety above all else — well, it just jumps out and broadcasts that Elon Musk and Tesla are hyper-focused on safety.
Tesla Autopilot & Full Self-Driving
This is the big one. Why does Elon focus so much on Autopilot and the “Full Self-Driving” package*? Because he’s obsessed with saving lives and preventing accidents. This is the point of Autopilot and Full Self-Driving (FSD). (*This doesn’t yet offer full self-driving cars but aims to make existing cars 100% self-driving via software updates over time.)
So far, we don’t have a good, statistically sound analysis to determine if Autopilot or FSD Beta are saving lives or preventing accidents. The stats used in the following graph don’t have an adequate control group. They do imply that Tesla’s Autopilot features help prevent accidents and deaths, but be cautious to not make a firm conclusion on that since: where Autopilot is used, what class of cars have similar features, and other qualities of Tesla vehicles with Autopilot engaged and the people who drive them might be the most important factors influencing crash rates.
I use Autopilot every day, though, and I’m convinced that it increases safety significantly. That is certainly the goal.
The ironic thing here is that there’s so much fear-mongering about Tesla Autopilot and Tesla FSD Beta. Tesla is doing what it can to prevent accidents, yet critics are attacking FSD Beta’s methods of doing so without any real evidence that Tesla’s methods are not working.
The hype around potential battery fires has come and gone routinely since I started covering Tesla 9 years ago. For some reason, it’s very easy for common people to get concerned about a tiny possibility of electric vehicle battery fires yet not think twice about the highly flammable containers we all carry along with us through the day.
It doesn’t help that national media outlets will cover the 3 or so Tesla battery fires a year but completely ignore the tens of thousands of gas-tank fires. This tremendous imbalance leads to imbalance in public perception.
Ironically, Tesla has built some of the safest, most reliable batteries in the industry. But what else could one expect from Tesla? It safety obsession is real, and really helpful.
Tesla Safety Score
I wrote about this at length the other day, so I’ll just direct you to that piece in case you missed it: I’d Bet Tesla’s “Safety Score” Has Increased Safe Driving Significantly.
Perhaps the most well known of all of these points is what’s represented in the chart at the top of the article. When the Model 3 came out, the Model 3, Model S, and Model X had the lowest “probability of injury” scores ever recorded by the NHTSA. Elon has said that safety is their #1 priority when designing cars, and that has seemingly been confirmed by the record-breaking ratings. For more on Tesla vehicle safety, see: “Why Tesla Model 3 Is The Safest Car On The Planet (Video).”
Overall, from factories, to cars, to insurance, and beyond, Tesla has a strong safety record. In fact, it’s got such a strong record that it seems safety is a company obsession.
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