Elon Musk, the feisty leader of an empire to build new-age cars and rockets whose dismissive call this week with financial analysts has drawn controversy, last month hung up on the top US transportation accident investigator.
Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said that during an April 11 phone call he told Musk that blog posts by Tesla casting blame on the driver of a Model X for a fatal California crash had gone too far. Earlier, the NTSB had warned Tesla not to make statements about the accident while it was under investigation.
Sumwalt then said he was taking the unusual step of kicking Tesla's representatives off the investigation.
"Best I remember, he hung up on us," Sumwalt said Thursday at the International Society of Air Safety Investigators' Mid-Atlantic Regional Chapter dinner in his first public comments on the exchange.
In the speech, Sumwalt had been discussing the NTSB's longtime practice of enlisting companies and other government agencies to assist its investigations and praised the cooperation it received from Southwest Airlines following an engine failure that killed a passenger on April 17.
After the April 11 call, Tesla issued a statement saying it "withdrew" from the probe. Only on April 12 did the NTSB issue a release saying it had actually removed the car manufacturer.
The NTSB is looking at why the battery on the Model X caught fire March 23 after the car struck a highway barrier in Mountain View, California. After NTSB opened the investigation, Tesla announced that the car was being guided by the semi-autonomous driving feature known as Autopilot and the driver's hands hadn't been detected on the wheel for six seconds. NTSB then expanded the probe to look at autonomous driving issues.
The NTSB, which is also investigating a January Tesla crash near Los Angeles, hasn't yet released a preliminary report on the Mountain View crash.
After its removal, Tesla accused NTSB of being "more concerned with press headlines than actually promoting safety" and defended its right to warn other drivers to remain engaged while using Autopilot. The company didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on Sumwalt's latest speech.
The outspoken Musk generated headlines this week, as well as a tumble in his company's share price, by rejecting questions from financial analysts during a call to release financial earnings. He called inquiries "boneheaded" and "absurd."
He cut off analysts and got defensive about probing questions pertaining to the company's finances.
© 2018 Bloomberg LP