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Tesla discloses DOJ probes over vehicle range, personal benefits, more

A Tesla Model Y is seen on a Tesla car lot on May 31, 2023 in Austin, Texas. Tesla’s Model Y has become the world’s best selling car in the first quarter of 2023. 

Brandon Bell | Getty Images

In a third-quarter financial filing out Monday, Tesla disclosed that the U.S. Department of Justice has been investigating, and in some cases issued subpoenas, to Elon Musk’s automaker regarding: its driver assistance systems marketed as Autopilot and Full Self Driving (or FSD) options; the range of the company’s electric vehicles; as well as “personal benefits, related parties,” and “personnel decisions” at the company.

The specific related parties were not listed in the filing. The term generally refers to a company’s executives, directors, largest shareholders and sometimes to other businesses that they own.

The Wall Street Journal reported in August that federal prosecutors were investigating whether Tesla used company funds to design and build a “glass house project” for Musk. And last year, Reuters reported that a federal criminal investigation was underway concerning Tesla’s claims that its cars were self-driving.

Reuters has reported, and research by Recurrent and others have revealed, that Tesla’s cars frequently fail to achieve the mileage stated in range estimates and shown on the in-vehicle displays.

In the filing out Monday, Tesla also disclosed that a data breach at the company has resulted in a number of individual and prospective class action lawsuits filed against it. In their disclosure, Tesla wrote, “a foreign news outlet reported that it obtained certain misappropriated data.” This appears to reference Handelsblatt, a German news outlet, that reported on 100 GB of leaked “Tesla files” in May this year including thousands of customer complaints regarding Tesla’s driver assistance features.

Regulatory scrutiny at the state and federal level of Tesla, and his other companies, appears to have inspired Musk to call for “comprehensive deregulation” over the weekend. Musk is also CEO of SpaceX and owns and runs X Corp. (Twitter) as CTO among other ventures.

Shares in Tesla were ticking higher on Monday mid-day, starting to recover from a 15% decline last week following the company’s pessimistic third-quarter earnings call.

On the Q3 call, CEO Elon Musk and other execs discussed Tesla’s increased R&D spending and efforts to keep the prices of their cars lower, and voiced concern that higher interest rates would dampen consumers’ ability to or willingness to buy or lease new cars.

The Q3 filing out Monday was signed by Tesla’s chief accounting officer and CFO Vaibhav Taneja, who assumed the role of CFO in August this year. Tesla’s former CFO Zachary Kirkhorn will be paid through his exit date, the filing out Monday revealed, but the company redacted his exit date.

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