If the Titanic sailed today, it would have an electric engine.
One month after Tesla's veteran battery technology direct, Kurt Kelty, left the company to "explore new opportunities", another veteran employee has unexpectedly departed the carmaker: on Wednesday, Tesla said that long-time executive Diarmuid O‘Connell, vice president of business development, had left after 11 years with the company (after a prior stint as the State Department's Chief of Staff on Political Military Affairs), the latest in a string of departures to hit the company just as Tesla enters "production hell" after it delivered its first Model 3 electric car to the general public with a dramatic production ramp up expected in the coming weeks.
“For more than 11 years, Diarmuid has played an important role in helping Tesla grow from a small startup to a company with a presence around the world,” Tesla said in a statement. “He started with Tesla before the rollout of Roadster, and now that we’ve reached the launch of Model 3, he felt the time was right to move on and spend more time with his family.”
O'Connell joined Tesla in July 2006 and was one of the longest-serving executives at Tesla after Elon Musk, and one of the few who spoke on behalf of the company at industry conferences. According to Bloomberg, he was a key point person in Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk’s state-by-state battles with auto dealers over the company’s right to sell cars directly to consumers.
Bloomberg notes that O’Connell, 53, lives near Aspen, Colorado, with his family and clocked thousands of miles of travel each year overseeing a business development and regulatory policy team of roughly 50 people.
“I’ve been privileged to be part of a team that sparked a revolution in global electromobility,” O’Connell said in a statement sent to Bloomberg News. “There is no turning back on the road to a world of electric vehicles and sustainable energy generation and use.” O’Connell’s team and responsibilities will be overseen by Jon McNeill, Tesla’s president of global sales and service, the company said.
And while we have no reason to doubt that O'Connell wanted to "spend more time with his family", we find it odd that his departure takes place just one day after a recent report into a fatal 2016 crash involving a Tesla Model S car and an articulated truck has found that both drivers and the company share the blame for the incident, reigniting debate about the future of self-driving cars.
As we reported at the time, Joshua Brown, 40, was travelling along the highway near Williston, Florida on May 7, 2016, when both he and his car’s autopilot system failed to notice a truck making a left turn on the highway ahead. The Model S struck the right side of the trailer smashing into the underside, shearing off the roof of the car in the process. The driver of the truck was uninjured but Brown died in the crash.
"System safeguards were lacking," NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said as cited by Fortune. "Tesla allowed the driver to use the system outside of the environment for which it was designed and the system gave far too much leeway to the driver to divert his attention."
The National Transportation Safety Board concluded its own separate investigation Tuesday and found that Tesla bears some of the responsibility.
"The probable cause of the Williston, Florida, crash was the truck driver’s failure to yield the right of way to the car, combined with the car driver’s inattention due to overreliance on vehicle automation," the watchdog’s press release said. The data from the autopilot module indicates the driver was over-reliant on the system and fundamentally misunderstood its limitations.
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Meanwhile, whatever the real reason for O'Connell's departure, the complete list of recent senior executive Tesla departures, courtesy of @WallStCynic just added one more entry.