Things Get Ugly Between Tesla and Former Employee

U.S.

Tesla has told CNBC that an employee the company claims is disgruntled has made threats against it. The employee, a former technician, threatened violence against the company’s Gigafactory in Nevada, according to a company spokesperson.

“Yesterday afternoon, we received a phone call from a friend of Mr. Tripp telling us that Mr. Tripp would be coming to the Gigafactory to ‘shoot the place up.’ Police have been notified and actions are being taken to enhance security at the Gigafactory,” a Tesla spokesperson told CNBC.

The ongoing battle between the car maker and the former employee, Martin Tripp, has spilled into public with accusations of sabotage and company negligence flying back and forth.

The company has accused Tripp of trying to sabotage it. CEO Elon Musk warned Tesla employees about the improper behavior in an email Sunday night. A copy of the email was obtained by CNBC.

“I was dismayed to learn this weekend about a Tesla employee who had conducted quite extensive and damaging sabotage to our operations. This included making direct code changes to the Tesla Manufacturing Operating System under false usernames and exporting large amounts of highly sensitive Tesla data to unknown third parties,” Musk wrote.

“The full extent of his actions are not yet clear, but what he has admitted to so far is pretty bad. His stated motivation is that he wanted a promotion that he did not receive. In light of these actions, not promoting him was definitely the right move.”

The company filed a lawsuit against Tripp accusing him of writing software that hacked Tesla’s manufacturing operating system and transferring large amounts of Tesla data, including confidential photographs and a video of Tesla’s manufacturing systems, to outside entities.

The lawsuit also alleges that Tripp wrote computer code that would export Tesla data off its network to third parties and that Tripp made false claims to the media about the company and its performance, specifically that the company used damaged parts in the manufacture of its automobiles.

Tripp denies the allegation about the security threat. He told The Washington Post that he had “never made a threat” and that the accusations are “absurd! Insane is a better word.”

To the other charges he responds by saying that rather than a saboteur he is a whistleblower who pointed out that Tesla has used more than 1,000 batteries that were punctured by a misprogrammed manufacturing robot, for example, in their automobile manufacturing. Tripp says instead of discarding the pieces some were fixed with adhesive and put back into manufacturing.

Tesla says the incident Tripp is referring to affected far fewer parts than is alleged and that none of the damaged parts were placed back in the manufacturing process. Presented with a log that shows the damaged parts were in fact used in production automobiles, Tesla refused to confirm or deny the allegation, saying say only that if a part were a safety concern it not be used in manufacturing.

Tripp has also allegedly presented evidence (photographic as well as written) of inordinate amounts of scrap metal being wasted in order to manufacture Tesla’s automobiles, something at odds with the company’s image of being both financially efficient and environmentally friendly.

Two charts reviewed by Business Insider show that someone could purchase 103 Tesla Model 3s with the amount of money wasted on inverter scrap used in production from the beginning of this year through the end of May alone.

Tesla acknowledges the elevated rates of scrap but says it is something that was planned for and is a “normal part of a production ramp.”

Emails between Tripp and Musk show the bitter accusations between the two men.

“You should be ashamed of yourself for framing other people. You’re a horrible human being,” Musk wrote in the email exchanged which was obtained by The Post.

“I NEVER ‘framed’ anyone else or even insinuated anyone else as being involved in my production of documents of your MILLIONS OF DOLLARS OF WASTE, Safety concerns, lying to investors/the WORLD. Putting cars on the road with safety issues is being a horrible human being!” Tripp replied.

“There are literally injuries with Model 3. It is by far the safest car in the world for any midsize vehicle. And of curse a company with billions of dollars in product is going to have millions of dollars in scrap. This is not news. However, betraying your word of honor, breaking the deal you had when Tesla gave you a job and framing your colleagues are wrong and some come with legal penalties. So it goes. Be well,” Musk wrote back.

Musk would later write, when forwarding the thread to other Tesla employees, that he “meant to write ‘no injuries’ [with Model 3].”

The Storey County sheriff’s office in Nevada, where the Tesla factory is located, said their investigation into the threat made by Tripp’s friend is ongoing, but as of yet they have found no evidence.

“After several hours of investigation deputies were able to determine there was no credible threat. Further investigation into the threat’s origin continues. No additional information concerning the ongoing investigation will be released until it’s [sic] conclusion to protect the investigative process,” a statement issued by the sheriff’s department read in part.

Tesla is currently ramping up production to achieve its previously stated goal of production of 5,000 Model 3s per week by the end of this month. Musk urged employees to remain alert in the wake of “outside forces” aligned against the company during this critical time.

“As you know, there are a long list of organizations that want Tesla to die,” Musk wrote in his email. “These include Wall Street short-sellers, who have already lost billions of dollars and stand to lose a lot more. Then there are the oil & gas companies, the wealthiest industry in the world — they don’t love the idea of Tesla advancing the progress of solar power & electric cars,” he wrote in his email.

“Please be extremely vigilant, particularly over the next few weeks as we ramp up the production rate to 5k/week. This is when outside forces have the strongest motivation to stop us.”

Photo by Maurizio Pesce via Flickr

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