Tesla staff work on a Model S vehicle at the company production facility in Fremont, California in 2015.
Photo: Jeff Chiu (AP)

Electric car giant Tesla is pulling out all the stops trying to hit make-or-break production targets of 5,000 Model 3 four-door sedans a week, going so far as to set up a third line in a tent outside its Fremont, California plant. At the same time, it’s reportedly burning through financing, has faced claims of poor quality control, and is laying off staff from its “salaried population” not including “production associates.” CEO Elon Musk himself has seemed a little on edge lately, at one point citing a blog linked to an alleged sex cult while criticizing allegedly unfair media coverage of Tesla.

So it’s fair to say that Tesla is in the middle of a stressful situation. It seems to have got a lot more tense this week, with Musk allegedly claiming the company has uncovered saboteurs in its ranks.

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CNBC reported that in an email to all employees on Sunday night, Musk wrote that a Tesla employee had been implicated in “quite extensive and damaging sabotage to our operations,” including modifications to the “Tesla Manufacturing Operating System under false usernames” and the export of “highly sensitive Tesla data to unknown third parties.” Musk wrote that the Tesla management team is attempting to discern whether this staff member, who was allegedly angry over a lost promotion, was acting alone or “if he was working with any outside organizations.”

Musk added that “there are a long list of organizations that want Tesla to die,” and named a rogue’s gallery of potential enemies including “Wall Street short-sellers,” “oil & gas companies,” and “the multitude of big gas/diesel car company competitors.” He further stressed that while “most of the time” these situations are motivated by a single individual’s desire for revenge, staff should be “extremely vigilant” while the company ramps up Model 3 production:

Most of the time, when there is theft of goods, leaking of confidential information, dereliction of duty or outright sabotage, the reason really is something simple like wanting to get back at someone within the company or at the company as a whole. Occasionally, it is much more serious.

Please be extremely vigilant, particularly over the next few weeks as we ramp up the production rate to 5k/week. This is when outside forces have the strongest motivation to stop us.

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Here’s where it gets weirder. CNBC additionally reported that after another fire broke out in the Fremont facility on Sunday night—following on four previous paint shop fires from 2014-2018—Musk sent another all-staff email titled “Some concerning news” on Monday morning.

Musk wrote that while the fire on the “body production line” resulted in no injuries or major damage, it did halt production in that part of the plant “for several hours.” He then seemed to link the fire to his previous email alleging sabotage, citing former Intel CEO Andy Grove’s famous quote “Only the paranoid survive”:

Could just be a random event, but as Andy Grove said, “Only the paranoid survive.” Please be on the alert for anything that’s not in the best interests of our company. If you aren’t getting a response from the emdesk email, please send me a note directly.

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Our sister site Jalopnik was unable to verify the emails independently, but CNBC wrote that multiple employees “from different divisions within Tesla” had confirmed the first’s veracity.

According to CNBC, a Tesla spokesman said the Sunday night fire involved “smoldering in an air filter in the welding area of the body line” that was quickly extinguished. While no injuries were reported, the incident follows a number of other allegations of unsafe conditions and accidents at the plant linked to efforts to hit production targets, none of which Tesla or Musk claimed were the result of sabotage.

Employees have long alleged grueling work conditions, claims which Musk has sometimes played off as union agitation. Earlier this year, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health named Tesla one of the most dangerous workplaces in the US, following another investigation by Reveal that claimed the company was systemically under-reporting the number of injuries at the Fremont facility and cutting corners on safety to maximize staff time spent on production. (Tesla denies the allegations but says it has responded by making safety improvements.)

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Gizmodo has reached out to Musk for comment, and we’ll update if we hear back.

The emails obtained by CNBC follow below:

From: Elon Musk

To: Everybody

Subject: Some concerning news

June 17, 2018

11:57 p.m.

I was dismayed to learn this weekend about a Tesla employee who had conducted quite extensive and damaging sabotage to our operations. This included making direct code changes to the Tesla Manufacturing Operating System under false usernames and exporting large amounts of highly sensitive Tesla data to unknown third parties.

The full extent of his actions are not yet clear, but what he has admitted to so far is pretty bad. His stated motivation is that he wanted a promotion that he did not receive. In light of these actions, not promoting him was definitely the right move.

However, there may be considerably more to this situation than meets the eye, so the investigation will continue in depth this week. We need to figure out if he was acting alone or with others at Tesla and if he was working with any outside organizations.

As you know, there are a long list of organizations that want Tesla to die. These include Wall Street short-sellers, who have already lost billions of dollars and stand to lose a lot more. Then there are the oil & gas companies, the wealthiest industry in the world — they don’t love the idea of Tesla advancing the progress of solar power & electric cars. Don’t want to blow your mind, but rumor has it that those companies are sometimes not super nice. Then there are the multitude of big gas/diesel car company competitors. If they’re willing to cheat so much about emissions, maybe they’re willing to cheat in other ways?

Most of the time, when there is theft of goods, leaking of confidential information, dereliction of duty or outright sabotage, the reason really is something simple like wanting to get back at someone within the company or at the company as a whole. Occasionally, it is much more serious.

Please be extremely vigilant, particularly over the next few weeks as we ramp up the production rate to 5k/week. This is when outside forces have the strongest motivation to stop us.

If you know of, see or suspect anything suspicious, please send a note to [email address removed for privacy] with as much info as possible. This can be done in your name, which will be kept confidential, or completely anonymously.

Looking forward to having a great week with you as we charge up the super exciting ramp to 5000 Model 3 cars per week!

Will follow this up with emails every few days describing the progress and challenges of the Model 3 ramp.

Thanks for working so hard to make Tesla successful,

Elon

From: Elon Musk

To: Everybody

Subject: Some concerning news

June 18, 2018

9:38 a.m.

Late last night we had another strange incident that was hard to explain. Small fire on the body-in-white production line. No one was in the area and there were no injuries or significant equipment damage, but it was enough to stop the body production line for several hours.

Could just be a random event, but as Andy Grove said, “Only the paranoid survive.” Please be on the alert for anything that’s not in the best interests of our company. If you aren’t getting a response from the emdesk email, please send me a note directly.

Thanks,

Elon

[CNBC/CNBC]

If you know anything regarding Tesla’s Fremont plant or claims of industrial sabotage therein, shoot an email or send relevant documents through Gizmodo Media Group’s Secure Drop site.

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