Martin Tripp, the recently fired Tesla employee who the company sued under accusations of “hacking” company systems, told Ars on Thursday morning that he is actually a whistleblower who is trying to reveal internal waste and safety flaws in Tesla batteries.
He also denied to Ars on Thursday that he had made a comment to a friend to “shoot the place up,” which prompted a visit by the Storey County Sheriff.
“Absolutely not!” he told Ars. “The ONLY thing I have said to any ‘friends’ is I sent a link to the CNBC article to five of them and asked if they really thought I was a hacker.”
Tripp added to Ars that he “absolutely” believed that CEO Elon Musk himself made up the allegation. Musk did not immediately respond to Ars’ request for comment.
In a Wednesday evening interview with , Tripp said that he observed “punctured batteries” inside the Sparks, Nevada facility where he worked. Tesla told the that Tripp’s accusations are false, that it has never used punctured batteries in any Model 3, and that he is mistaken concerning the company’s level of waste. Tesla also did not immediately respond to Ars’ request for comment.
After the lawsuit was filed on Wednesday, Tripp, according to emails he provided, wrote to CEO Elon Musk, saying, “Don’t worry, you have what’s coming to you for the lies you have told to the public and investors.”
“Threatening me only makes it worse for you,” Musk replied.
Less than 20 minutes later, Tripp wrote, “I never made a threat. I simply told you that you have what’s coming. Thank you for this gift!!!!”
“You should ashamed of yourself for framing other people,” Musk wrote a minute later. “You’re a horrible human being.”
The exchange continued.
“I NEVER ‘framed’ anyone else or even insinuated anyone else as being involved in my production of documents of your MILLIONS OF DOLLARS OF WASTE, Safety concerns, lying to investors/the WORLD,” Tripp wrote. “Putting cars on the road with safety issues is being a horrible human being!”
Musk got the last word in before the conversation seems to have stopped between the two men, for now.
“[The Model 3] is by far the safest car in the world for any midsize vehicle,” he wrote. “And of course a company with billions of dollars in product is going to have millions of dollars in scrap. This is not news.
“However, betraying your word of honor, breaking the deal you had when Tesla gave you a job and framing your colleagues are wrong and some come with legal penalties. So it goes. Be well.”
A months-long saga
Tripp explained to Ars that he first became concerned in December 2017 when he was “tasked with inventory of the stator line.”
“The amount of waste that was being produced and how no one seemed to care about it” sparked his concern, he wrote.
“When the cultural norm is to not care and continue building bad product, there’s something wrong there. Any manufacturer I’ve ever been to (and I’ve been to a lot) would never allow for this. Since Tesla is running on investor money, it made it more concerning. In May it became immediately concerning when I was again tasked with inventory of the battery stuff and found huge discrepancies (100’s of millions of dollars), and then the punctured cells.”
He said that he observed four cubic feet of what he described as “double walled cardboard containers filled multiple times per day” and added that there were “no standards for doing anything.”
When asked if he reported his concerns internally prior to going to the press, he said he “did all the time,” specifically saying it was “every day.”
“My Manager basically blew me off, stating that it was ‘not a production line so scrap was a byproduct of getting it there,'” he wrote. “I made the comment that these are going into ‘sellable cars’ and he said ‘yep’ and walked away, his head held high. I then had to provide numbers to a group of engineers/production every morning and asked several times if anything was being done to rectify the issues. [I] even [had] a few meetings with my HR rep and brought the issues up.”
At that point, he began leaking to the press, specifically to Business Insider, which wrote a June 4, 2018 story entitled “Internal documents reveal Tesla is blowing through an insane amount of raw material and cash to make Model 3s, and production is still a nightmare.”