While it is no longer a secret that Elon Musk has been handing out NDA to those Tesla buyers who have encountered "quality control" issues to prevent any negative publicity from leaking out about his overhyped vehicle, he will have a difficult time limiting the damage control from a deadly crash two months ago that claimed the life of its driver who was allegedly watching a DVD while the car was on autopilot.
Exibit A: a photo of the Tesla Model S involved in the fatal crash on May 7, 2016 shows with the top third of the car sheared off by the impact of the collision of the Tesla with a tractor-trailer truck on nearby highway and coming to rest in the yard of Robert and Chrissy VanKavelaar.
Additionally, as Reuters reported today, investigators found a laptop computer in the Tesla Model S sedan involved in a fatal crash in May while running on autopilot, Florida investigators said on Thursday, leaving it unclear whether the driver was distracted at the time. Neither the laptop nor a DVD player also found in the vehicle was running after the crash, said Sergeant Kim Montes of the Florida Highway Patrol. Montes said investigators could not determine whether the driver was operating either at the time of the accident.
Which is odd because as reported previously, the driver of the truck in which the Tesla slammed, said the Tesla driver was "playing Harry Potter on the TV screen" at the time of the crash and driving so quickly that "he went so fast through my trailer I didn't see him." The car was equipped with a computer stand, but the laptop was not mounted on the stand when investigators recovered the laptop, Montes said.
Witnesses who came upon the wreckage gave differing accounts last week about whether the DVD player was showing a movie.
It could be weeks if not months before officials make a final determination of the cause of the crash, the first known fatality of a Model S driver while using Autopilot. The accident has opened debate about whether drivers were being lulled into a false sense of security by such technology.
What is worse for Musk, however, is not the immediate fallout from the crash, but the viability of the underlying business and investor confidence with a model which is burning billions of dollars in cash every month.
Furthermore as RBC noted in a note today, "Tesla Confidence Tipping Point May Near With Each Target Miss." As a result, RBC's Joseph Spak - who lowered his price target from $220 to $210 - cut his Tesla 2016 delivery estimates to 75k from prior 79k after Tesla 2Q delivery figures this week implied production of ~50k vehicles in 2H 2016, putting total year deliveries at low end of 80k-90k forecast, RBC analyst Joseph Spak He also cut the 2Q per-share loss est. to 86c vs his previous loss est. 36c. He adds that while the market “may not care” on some short-term issues, still sees “mid-to-long term opportunity” but there could be a “tipping point” where continued missed targets lower confidence in Model 3 ramp up, adding that “most investors we talk to” don’t think TSLA can make target of 500k vehicles in 2018 and 1m in 2020.
With any news of more Tesla crashes, those targets will certainly become increasingly more elusive.