Tesla’s (TSLA) Public Spat with Mobileye (MBLY) Gets Ugly

Mobileye's Amnon Shashua did not mince words on the breakup.

Mobileye MBLY

Israel-based driver assistance company Mobileye NV (NYSE:MBLY)  had a very public falling out with American carmaker Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA) and it’s getting ugly fast. On Wednesday, Amnon Shashua, the chief technology officer of Mobileye revealed more information about the situation, including the reason for breaking ties with its long-time partner. Shashua said Tesla’s design of its Autopilot feature has been “pushing the envelope in terms of safety.”

In a Reuters interview, Shashua explained that the autopilot feature was not meant to “cover all possible crash situations in a safe manner.” He added that despite what Tesla says, the software was only meant to assist the driver, not drive the car.

The partnership between Tesla and Mobileye started to deteriorate following a deadly Florida crash that killed Tesla’s driver who was testing out the Autopilot system in May. In a blog post, Tesla explained the cause of the accident: the failure of the autopilot to distinguish between the white side of a tractor trailer against a bright sky.

“Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied,” Tesla wrote.

When asked to comment on the issue, a Tesla representative said the company never claimed that the Autopilot feature offers 100% autonomous driving, noting that Autopilot was referred to as a “convenient feature” on its website.

“Since the release of Autopilot, we’ve continuously educated customers on the use of the features, reminding them that they’re responsible to keep their hands on the wheel and remain alert and present when using Autopilot,” the spokeswoman said. “Drivers must be prepared to take control at all times.”

In the same interview, Shashua said that spinning the autopilot feature into something that it is not is only going to hurt the interest of the company and the entire industry itself, tarnishing Mobileye’s reputation in the process.

This was not the first time that Tesla was embroiled in an issue regarding the safety of its autopilot feature.

In China where the carmaker’s autopilot feature is under heavy scrutiny, a Model S crashed on a Beijing highway. According to the driver, he took his hands off the steering wheel seconds before the crash, denting a parked VW on the side of the road. The motorist blamed Tesla’s “misleading” commercial, which suggests that the car can drive itself, for the collision. Following the crash, Tesla moved to amend all references to “auto pilot” on its Chinese website.

Because the impact of the accident damaged the Model S log data system, “the car was physically incapable of transmitting log data to our servers,” Tesla said.

The driver, along with his family, sued Tesla in July and has yet to reach an agreement.

Shashua added that Mobileye is wary of Tesla’s mixed message about the controversial feature, which boasts of its ability to assist drivers on the road by activating the system’s safety features.

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