Elon Musk Calls Tesla Leaker a 'Horrible Human Being' in Heated Email Exchange

Emails between the Tesla CEO and fired employee show the men beefing in private.
June 21, 2018, 6:15pm
Image: Flickr/OnInnovation

The saga of Tesla’s saboteur just got even weirder.

Emails between Elon Musk and Martin Tripp, who Tesla is suing for allegedly hacking its trade secrets, were shared on Twitter by Washington Post reporter Drew Harwell today. Harwell’s story describes the exchange at length.

The emails show Musk and Tripp lobbing insults at one another on Wednesday—the same day Tesla’s lawsuit was announced.

“You’re a horrible human being,” Musk wrote. Trip responded three minutes later: “Putting cars on the road with safety issues is being a horrible human being!”

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Tesla claims that Tripp, a former Nevada Gigafactory employee, hacked a manufacturing operating system, stole confidential photos and video footage, and sent that data to third-parties.

The company also alleges that Tripp falsely represented the information he leaked to outside sources; that Tesla put punctured batteries into Model 3 cars, and that its Gigafactory produced $150 million worth of scrap.

Tripp denied hacking the system to the Post. He called himself a whistleblower who saw “some really scary things.”

In the Post interview, Tripp also admitted to being source of a Business Insider story exposing Tesla’s alleged battery misuse this year.

Tesla also claims to have evidence of Tripp’s hacking, including him placing the software onto the computers of three colleagues.

Yet Tripp told the Post that he doesn’t “have the patience for coding.” And that he wasn’t, as Tesla said, mad about a promotion. “That's their generic excuse,” Tripp told the outlet. “I could literally care less.”

Tesla says that Tripp isn't a whistleblower, and that it categorically denies his claims about the company. In a statement provided to Motherboard, Tesla said:

No punctured cells were ever used in Model 3 vehicles in any way. In February 2018, a robot damaged some modules being produced at the Gigafactory, and a team was involved in identifying the scope of the damage. After conducting extensive testing, they threw out the punctured cells, confirmed the safety of the rest, and only then returned just those to the production line. If there was even a sliver of doubt about whether a cell could pose a safety concern, it was not used in any vehicle. Notably, there have been zero battery safety issues in any Model 3.

Mr. Tripp grossly exaggerated the value and amount of scrap material at the Gigafactory. Relying on the internal data that he hacked from Tesla’s manufacturing operations system, Tripp incorrectly stated that Tesla has generated nearly $150 million in scrap at the Gigafactory in 2018. That number is wrong by more than a factor of two.

Mr. Tripp also admitted to Tesla’s investigators that he does not actually know the value of the scrap that he assigned dollar values to. He just guessed.

Here’s the email exchange that was provided to the Post by Musk:

Tripp (8:57 am PT): “Don’t worry, you have what’s coming to you for the lies you have told to the public and investors.”

Musk (9:42 am PT): “Threatening me only makes it worse for you”

Tripp (9:59 am PT): “I never made a threat. I simply told you that you have what’s coming. Thank you for this gift!!!!”

Musk (10:00 am PT): “You should be ashamed of yourself for framing other people. You’re a horrible human being.”

Tripp (10:03 am PT): “I NEVER ‘framed’ anyone else of 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. Putting cars on the road with safety issues is being a horrible human being!”

Musk (10:28 am PT): “There are literally [no] injuries with Model 3. It is by far the safest car in the world for any midsize vehicle. 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.”

On Twitter, Musk seemed to hint that more exists to the lawsuit than what’s described in court documents.

Tripp said he didn’t know about the lawsuit until Wednesday, and was fired over the phone last week by an HR representative.

As things stand, the case is more confusing than ever. What with Tripp’s conflicting statements to the press, and Musk’s cryptic tweet, we’ll have to wait for more to unfold.

This story has been updated to include a comment from Tesla.