The tension between Tesla CEO Elon Musk and transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg seems to be deepening now that the one-time presidential hopeful is taking Tesla's so-called Autopilot tech to task once again.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Buttigieg once again joined the chorus of critics who claim that Tesla's marketing of the assisted-driving feature is dangerous and misleading — though of course, those detractors don't have the same power as the transportation secretary.
"I don’t think that something should be called, for example, an Autopilot, when the fine print says you need to have your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road at all times," the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana told the news wire.
This is far from the first time Buttigieg has called out Tesla, which has butted heads with him and the Biden White House as they aim to both boost unionized labor and electric vehicle sales.
The bad blood between the titan of industry and the polyglot former mayor seems to have begun back at the end of 2021, when the notoriously anti-union Musk trashed the Biden Administration's Build Back Better Act for offering a tax break of up to $12,500 for those who bought union-made EVs.
"Honestly, I would just can this whole bill," the Tesla CEO said at the Wall Street Journal's CEO Council Summit. "I am literally saying get rid of all subsidies."
Speaking at the same summit, Buttigieg appeared to respond without referencing Musk by name when saying that subsidies are necessary because "these are things that don’t happen on their own" — something the Tesla CEO should know considering how much government money he's taken.
Buttigieg went on to plug the "importance of making sure that this electric-vehicle revolution is made in America and creating good-paying jobs."
"And, of course," he added, "we believe in the benefits of union jobs."
The barb-trading didn't end there, either.
In yet another Musk-referencing media hit, Buttigieg told Gizmodo later in 2022 that although he thinks the Tesla and SpaceX CEO's longtime pipe dream for a "Hyperloop" high-speed rail is "super-interesting," he has deep reservations about its feasibility.
"Sure, try it," he said, "but we’ll probably not try it on our dime."
Buttigieg's barbs this week aren't even the first time he's attacked Autopilot. Back in March, he told Bloomberg a "concern" and that it was "common sense" that it was an inappropriate name for a feature that does not fully drive a vehicle.
Though Musk's vision around cars that can fully drive themselves has been clear for years, critics have long complained that the company's marketing — its driver assist software is called Autopilot and its self-driving feature is called Full Self-Driving — vastly overstates what the vehicles are currently able to do.
Buttigieg is in charge of the Department of Transportation, which in turn runs the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is in the midst of an extensive probe of Tesla's Autopilot feature.
Reading those tea leaves, it sounds like that investigation remains a serious priority.
"I view it as something where it’s very important to be very objective," Buttigieg told the AP. "But anytime a company does something wrong or a vehicle needs to be recalled or a design isn’t safe, we’re going to be there."
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