UPDATE: NHTSA has concluded their investigation and determined that the short seller’s motor vehicle defect petition had no merit.
When news broke three days ago that NHTSA was investigating a motor vehicle defect petition submitted against Tesla for “sudden unintended acceleration”, I knew immediately that it was a frivolous complaint submitted by Tesla short-sellers.
The media didn’t describe it that way: the first take from outlets like The Verge (pictured above) said that NHTSA was investigating customer complaints of sudden unintended acceleration. We now know that this is false: Brian Sparks, the petitioner, is not a Tesla customer. He’s a Tesla short seller. A “short seller” is anyone engaged in stock market bets that payout if Tesla’s share price declines and destroys the trader if Tesla’s share price climbs.
Although the media fell for the deception and incorrectly reported that customers were complaining, I knew even before looking into it that Tesla short-sellers had submitted the petition. How? Because just a few months ago, Tesla short-sellers fraudulently filed a fake defect petition against Tesla Autopilot in my name. This isn’t the first time Tesla short sellers have falsified government documents to try and manipulate Tesla’s share price, and if the media keeps falling for it, I doubt it will be the last.
The “Sudden Unintended Acceleration” Petition Was Submitted by Tesla Short Seller Brian Sparks
Contrary to media reports that these complaints came from customers, the fact is that Brian Sparks, the petitioner does not own a Tesla. He is simply shorting the stock, and found it his interest to waste government resources and time on a frivolous investigation.
The original CNBC story by Lora Kolodny that broke the news does subtly note that Sparks is a short seller:
CNBC has learned that an independent investor, Brian Sparks, submitted a petition to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and its Office of Defects Investigations […] Sparks is currently shorting Tesla stock.CNBC
Although Sparks references incidents where drivers reported “Sudden Unintended Acceleration”, NHTSA’s investigation was not sparked (no pun intended) by customer complaints: It originated from a petition filed not by a Tesla owner, but by someone with a financial incentive to lie and misrepresent the facts in order to drive down Tesla’s share price.
What’s the big deal about “Sudden Unintended Acceleration”
For those who follow automotive history, the phrase sudden unintended acceleration immediately evokes the Toyota Sudden Intended Acceleration scandal of a decade ago. In that instance, the Justice Department fined Toyota $1.2 billion and Toyota customers separately won $1.2 billion in a lawsuit after a widespread SUA issue across Toyota models caused 89 deaths and 52 injuries.
According to Wikipedia when NHTSA first started receiving defect petitions about the issue they closed the investigation finding “no evidence that a defect existed”.
But it turned out that Toyota had discovered issues as early as 2007, including issues with their stock all-weather floor mats, that could cause SUA and kept it a secret. The reason Toyota was fined $2.4 billion wasn’t because of the mistake, or even primarily because 89 people died –– it was because of the coverup that leads to more people dying than should have.
Sparks Claims this is a New Toyota Incident
In his petition, Sparks makes it pretty clear that he believes this is another incident exactly like what Toyota went through a decade ago. He wants NHTSA to recall every Tesla vehicle ever sold to fix a completely imaginary defect:
I believe Tesla vehicles have a structural flaw which puts their drivers and the public at risk. I further believe Tesla must know of this flaw and be unresponsive to it. This petition will show that, based on publicly available information, it appears Tesla vehicles have a Sudden Unintended Acceleration Problem and Tesla must know about this problem.
This information shows that there is a safety-related defect in Tesla vehicles. Therefore, the NHTSA must grant this Motor Vehicle Defect Petition and recall all Model S, Model X, and Model 3 vehicles produced from 2013 to the present.Brian Sparks, Berkeley, CA
This defect petition is crafted perfectly to cause a stir. For one thing, Toyota’s “Sudden Unintended Acceleration” scandal was something the public was quite aware of. People remember what a pain it was for Toyota, and how bad it looked. Claiming that every Tesla ever made has a defect that will cause them to suddenly accelerate and kill you is not only a way to scare off customers, it’s also designed to evoke the memory of the Toyota incident to investors and traders.
The second reason why the petition is quite a create piece of misinformation is that in the Toyota scandal, NHTSA failed to find any evidence of a problem that Toyota was well aware of. Still embarrassed by their failure in the last incident, they’re of course going to look into this petition fully.
But let’s be clear: Although the media and Tesla short sellers will spin this news as evidence that NHTSA is looking into glaring safety issues with Tesla, NHTSA has not opened a formal probe.
Once it evaluates the contents of the petition, NHTSA — which has the power to mandate vehicle recalls, or recalls of components and other technology in vehicles — will decide if it should open a formal probe. If it decides not to offer a formal probe, it is expected to say why not, with an entry on a federal registry. The NHTSA investigator assigned to evaluate the petition is Ajit Alkondon.CNBC
Of course, just because NHTSA hasn’t fully evaluated the short seller’s claims doesn’t mean it’s too early to go write a news story about it. In an era of clickbait and sensationalism, drama comes before facts –– even when peoples lives are on the line.
Not the first fake petition
This isn’t the first time Tesla short sellers have submitted a false or misleading petition to NHTSA to investigate supposed “safety” issues with Tesla. I know first hand. In October, a Tesla short seller filed a fake NHTSA defect petition under my name claiming serious safety issues with Autopilot.
Why would they file the petition under my name? To protect their anonymity, and because I’ve publicly supported Autopilot. I strongly believe that advanced driver assistance and automation software like Autopilot has the potential to save millions of lives a year globally and deliver untold and unimaginable economic benefits. There’s no doubt in my mind that Tesla Autopilot is the most important software project in the world being developed today.
After speaking publicly about my experiences with Autopilot for some time (mostly on Twitter), Zach Mider, a Bloomberg reporter assigned to do a feature on recent Autopilot crashes contacted me and asked if he could come along for an Autopilot ride.
After the feature was published, I received this comment on Twitter from a Tesla short seller:
At first, I laughed the comment off chalking it up to a desperate move by a man losing lots of money shorting Tesla:
But sure enough, within a few weeks of seeing the tweet, I was contacted via Twitter DM by someone asking if I had submitted a Motor Vehicle Defect Petition against Tesla Autopilot. I replied that of course I had not –– I love Autopilot and believe it’s the biggest step forward in safety since the seatbelt.
When someone files a fake defect petition under your name, NHTSA does not go out and contact you to let you know. Why would they, as you presumably filed the petition? The only reason I found out that a fake petition had been filed under my name is that someone actually recognized my name due to the Bloomberg story and a constant barrage of personal attacks by Tesla short-sellers furious at me for investigating their misconduct.
Eager to set the record straight, I signed an affidavit and submitted it to NHTSA to let them know that the petition they had received was not submitted by me:
One Year of Tesla Short Seller Attacks
For those who haven’t been following the “TSLAQ” story, this must all seem pretty bizarre and surprising. It’s certainly beyond anything I ever imagined before I bought a Tesla and started receiving comments from these trolls. When Tesla short sellers attempt to drum up fake negative stories, the media hardly ever mentions them or the social media disinformation campaign they’ve orchestrated –– one of the most elaborate I have ever seen in my life. In fact, journalists have actually been known to donate their own to support the short seller’s efforts! (Many have personal grudges against Musk as well)
What Tesla short sellers are doing online is far beyond your typical short and distort scheme. More than just trying to spread fake news stories, Tesla short sellers have chased Tesla employees in their cars. They’ve nearly run over Tesla security personnel while trying to escape from Tesla facillities.
And worst of all, they’ve gone directly after Tesla customers and supporters in one of the most sophisticated cyber-harassment schemes in history.
Ever since I started investigating Tesla short sellers and their crimes and misconduct, they’ve consistently attacked me and my family. It started when Aaron Greenspan (who claims he invented Facebook and Square Cash) had his fake “charity” Plainsite doxx me on my 25th birthday:
The intention of short sellers is to shame anyone who has anything positive to say about Tesla into silence. You wouldn’t believe what these people have done to me and my friends over the last year –– the defect petition is the least of it!
Plainsite is a tax-exempt charity that’s being illegally abused to advance Tesla short-seller Aaron Greenspan’s personal stock market bets. Believe it or not, Tesla short-sellers get a tax deduction for donating to the organization, which is exempt from taxes and seems to be primarily focused on online harassment and disinformation. When he’s not attacking me, he’s attacking active US Military service members:
And young college students in Germany:
Why would short-sellers want to attack these people, along with many others? Believe it or not, they attack and harass these people just for having something positive to say about Tesla. I understand that they’re losing money, but their derangement truly defies logic.
Anyway, I’m getting a little sidetracked here. If you want to read more about Aaron Greenspan’s illegal activity you can do so here. I’m planning to write more documenting my last year of $TSLAQ harassment later, but I’ve been too lazy to get around it so far. Anyway, I only bring this up to give background on Tesla short sellers to those who have the pleasure of not knowing them.
These are nasty, sick people. If you think they genuinely care about safety, you are a fool. They will lie, cheat, break the law, and attack anyone they need to simply for the sport of it. The SUA petition is just the latest of a series of fake petitions and complaints, like the one they submitted under my name. It should be taken with a mountain of salt. These people would love to see lifesaving technology recalled if it would help them make a few bucks. Don’t be stupid enough to fall for their lies and deception.
What will NHTSA do?
NHTSA should fully investigate the issue to put the question to rest once and for all. Tesla has no reason to hide any issue here. If there was a problem, it could almost certainly be fixed very quickly with an over the air software update.
I’m writing this because I want everyone to know that Tesla short sellers have a history of submitting fake petitions and government documents. They do it because any official government document adds legitimacy to their fake story, and increases the chances that a news story will be written about it.
Although the motives of the short sellers are clearly self-serving, let’s look into their claims fully. If there is a problem, by all means let’s fix it. I seriously doubt that’s the case, but let’s be sure. If it turns out this was just an attempt to spread further misinformation, Brian Sparks and other Tesla short-sellers filing fake NHTSA petitions should be fined to the fullest extent allowed by law.
What about the reports of SUA?
Tesla short-seller Brian Sparks claims that Tesla vehicles see more NHTSA complaints of SUA than other vehicles. While I have not verified his calculations myself, assuming his numbers are correct there are a few explanations for the higher number of reports per vehicle:
- Reports are not Perfect –– A report is just what the driver claims to experience. The driver may misremember or remember in a way that is self-serving to what occurred. There have been many cases when people swore they were pushing the brake, but vehicle logs showed they hit the accelerator. Not just in Teslas, but in every car model.
- Instant Torque –– Unlike gasoline-powered cars, Tesla vehicles have instant torque. Rather than having to wait for gasoline to be burned, pushing down on the accelerator instantly launches your Tesla forward. This likely contributes to new driver feelings that something irregular may have occurred in a reported SUA event
- Traffic Aware Cruise Control –– Tesla vehicles make it very easy to activate traffic-aware cruise control, which will accelerate to a set speed only when it detects no car in front of it. For new users, there may be some confusion about TACC vs Autosteer and when those functions are enabled
This is just my personal theory, but I think most of these “SUA” events are just people who may not understand how to use their Tesla fully. In any case, reports appear to be extremely rare.
Just because these errors aren’t a “defect” that requires a recall doesn’t mean Tesla can’t take action to make sure that its vehicles are safer. If there are opportunities to make Tesla vehicles safer through a software update, let’s do it. One user suggested on Twitter that it might be helpful to have an option when tuning the steering wheel disengages traffic-aware cruise control in addition to Autosteer when Autopilot is engaged. (Currently, turning the wheel disengages Autosteer but leaves TACC enabled. I can imagine this being a little confusing for new users).
It’s a nothingburger
Long story short, there is most likely nothing to see here. This isn’t going to cost Tesla $2.4 billion, Tesla won’t have to recall every vehicle ever made, and I doubt there is a coverup. User error seems more likely than a serious defect.
If there is anything that can be done to make the cars safer or even reduce user error, Tesla will do it. For example, in the last year, they shipped Obstacle Aware Acceleration. This Autopilot safety feature will reduce the power of the accelerator when an object is detected in front of your car.
Today, Tesla responded to this petition in a blog post stating clearly: “There is no sudden unintended acceleration”.
Sorry, this post was a little long and rambling, but I just wanted to get it out quickly and say: as usual, Tesla short-sellers are full of shit.
If you’re a journalist and want to talk more about what’s written here, contact me via the about page on this blog. I may edit this post later to make it more coherent.
By the way, the penalty for filing a fake defect petition is $5,141 a day. Filing fake government documents under someone else’s name is also illegal. Whether anyone will actually be fined for wasting government resourced dedicated to consumer safety for their own financial gain, I don’t know.
It’s insane that you guys even had to release a statement. Goes to show how there are still so many FUD forces out there, grasping at their last few straws.— Ryan McCaffrey (@DMC_Ryan) January 20, 2020