SAN FRANCISCO — Tesla Inc. is set to defend itself for the first time at trial against allegations that failure of its Autopilot driver assistant feature led to death, in what will likely be a major test of CEO Elon Musk's assertions about the technology.
Self-driving capability is central to Tesla’s financial future, according to Musk, whose own reputation as an engineering leader is being challenged with allegations by plaintiffs in one of two lawsuits that he personally leads the group behind technology that failed. Wins by Tesla could raise confidence and sales for the software, which costs up to $15,000 per vehicle.
Tesla faces two trials in quick succession, with more to follow.
The first, scheduled for mid-September in a California state court, is a civil lawsuit containing allegations that the Autopilot system caused owner Micah Lee’s Model 3 to suddenly veer off a highway east of Los Angeles at 65 miles per hour, strike a palm tree and burst into flames, all in the span of seconds.