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Tesla CEO Elon Musk Seeks to End US SEC Muzzle on Tweets, Could Face Uphill Battle

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Tesla chief executive Elon Musk on Tuesday asked a federal judge to terminate his 2018 agreement with the top US securities regulator requiring some of his tweets to be vetted by a lawyer.

Musk also asked the judge to block a US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) subpoena requesting records of pre-approval of a Twitter poll he conducted in November on potentially selling some of his stock.

“The SEC’s pursuit of Mr. Musk has crossed the line into harassment, which is quintessential bad faith,” Musk’s lawyers wrote to US District Judge Alison Nathan in Manhattan.

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Musk’s lawyers said the 2018 consent decree resolving SEC securities fraud charges should not allow “roving and unbounded investigations” into the outspoken government critic, while impeding his constitutional right to free speech. Legal analysts said Musk’s push to end the consent decree may fail.

“The SEC clearly has authority to enforce a consent decree issued by a federal court without having to conduct a new investigation,” said Urska Velikonja, a law professor at Georgetown University Law Center.

“Apart from concerns that the consent decree is overbroad and difficult to enforce, which seem plausible, Musk’s other legal arguments are an exercise in legal silliness,” she added.

Uphill Fight

In early November, Musk posted on Twitter that he would offload 10 percent of his Tesla stake if users approved.

A majority did, and the poll sent Tesla shares into a slump. Musk has since sold $16.4 billion (roughly Rs. 125947.9 crore) of stock.

The tweet renewed questions about whether Musk complied with his SEC agreement to obtain approval from a Tesla lawyer before issuing written communications about information material to his company or its shareholders.

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Tesla said on Tuesday that Musk’s tweet on stock sales “is behavior the SEC should encourage: a CEO’s transparency with the public and shareholders about a proposed stock sale.”

Musk faces a “real uphill fight,” according to Stephen Crimmins, a partner at Murphy & McGonigle in New York City.

“Courts generally give the SEC a lot of leeway to enforce subpoenas,” said Crimmins, who is not connected to the Musk case.

“Judges generally take the approach that if you agree to a consent decree, you’re stuck with it. Saying you don’t like the deal is not going to get you out of it.” The SEC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Micro-managing Musk

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The regulator sued Musk after he tweeted in August 2018 that he had “funding secured” to potentially take his electric-car company private at $420 (roughly Rs. 32,200) per share. In reality, a buyout was not close.

Tesla and Musk settled by agreeing to each pay $20 million (roughly Rs. 153.59 crore) in civil fines and let lawyers vet some of Musk’s communications in advance, including Twitter posts that could affect Tesla’s stock price. Musk also gave up Tesla’s chairmanship.

“I never lied to shareholders,” Musk told Nathan in a separate court filing. “I entered into the consent decree for the survival of Tesla, for the sake of its shareholders.”

In his filing, Musk said he was “forced” to sign the decree, citing the SEC’s “unrelenting regulatory pressure” and as the “SEC’s action stood to jeopardize the company’s financing.”

He said Tesla’s investor relations teams said at that time that several large shareholders “could cede their ownership in Tesla – substantially impacting Tesla’s financing – if the case was not settled expediently.”

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The company on Tuesday accused the SEC of exploiting the consent decree to “micro-manage Mr. Musk’s Twitter activity” and retaliate against him for criticizing the agency.

Musk has also mocked the agency in his tweets since the 2018 probe: “SEC, three letter acronym, middle word is Elon’s.”

He also tweeted in 2020 that Tesla would make short pants in radiant red satin with gold trim and send them to the SEC, which he called the “shortseller enrichment commission.”


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Ola Electric to Launch a New EV on August 15 in India; Product Teased: All Details

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Ola Electric might launch a new electric vehicle (EV) on India’s 75th Independence Day. A company executive recently teased the launch of its upcoming EV online. The launch event will be livestreamed by the company. The time and link to the livestream will shared online by the company soon. At the event, Ola Electric said it will also reveal its future plans. The company is calling the new product the “greenest EV” it has ever made. Ola Electric is yet to announce if it will be a four-wheeler or a two-wheeler.

Bhavish Aggarwal, CEO of Ola Electric, recently took to Twitter to announce that the company is going to launch another EV in India on August 15 this year. The same teaser video was also shared by the official company account. Though neither the company nor Aggarwal has revealed what the new EV is going to be, some Twitter users are speculating it to be an electric four-wheeler.

In another teaser video shared by Aggarwal on Twitter, we can see a silhouette of an electric two-wheeler. Hence, it can be expected to be another variant or model of the Ola S1 or S1 Pro. The same video teaser was also shared the company’s official Twitter account with the caption, “What’s common between Paalak Paneer, Hulk, Forest and the Ola S1 Pro? Stay tuned to find out, see you on 15th August.” Ola Electric has also used the hashtag EndICEage. Here, ICE presumably means Internal Combustion Engines.

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The launch of the EV will be livestreamed by the company. The link to the live stream and specific time will be shared by the company, Aggarwal said in a tweet. At the August 15 launch event, the company is said to also unveil its “BIG” future plans, according to Aggarwal.

Ola S1 and S1 Pro scooters were launched in India in August last year. Ola Electric has been receiving flak for their E-scooters catching fire. According to a recent report, faulty battery cells and modules are said to be the cause behind Ola E-scooters catching flames.


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Baidu Bags License to Operate China's First Fully Driverless Robotaxi Service

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China search engine giant Baidu said on Monday it has obtained permits to operate fully driverless robotaxi services on open roads from two Chinese cities, the first of their kind in the country.

The permits, awarded by the southwestern municipality of Chongqing and the central city of Wuhan, allow commercial robotaxis to offer rides to the public without human safety drivers in the car. They come into effect on Monday.

Baidu said they marked a “turning point” in China’s policy-making towards autonomous driving.

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“These permits have deep significance for the industry,” Wei Dong, chief safety operation officer of Baidu’s Intelligent Driving Group, told Reuters in an interview. “If we think of the exploration of space, this moment is equal to landing on the moon.”

At first, Baidu will deploy a batch of five fee-charging robotaxis in each city, where they will be allowed to operate in designated areas from 9am to 5pm in Wuhan and 9:30am to 4:30pm in Chongqing, the company said in a statement.

The service areas span 30 square km in Chongqing’s Yongchuan District and 13 square km in the Wuhan Economic & Technological Development Zone.

In April, Baidu’s Apollo and Toyota-backed Pony.ai said that they received permits in Beijing to deploy robotaxis without safety drivers in the driver’s seat on open roads within a 60 square km area. But the Beijing permits still require them to have a safety driver in the passenger seat. These services have started.

Baidu is also in talks with local governments in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, to secure licenses within a year to test fully-driverless and unpaid robotaxis in those cities, according to Wei.

China’s efforts to fast-track autonomous vehicle trials and permits come as US regulators are also pushing ahead with milestone-setting autonomous driving policies.

In January, self-driving company Cruise received a permit from the California Public Utilities Commission that allows it to offer paid and fully driverless rides from 10 pm to 6 am in select streets in San Francisco.

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Apollo Go, Baidu’s robotaxi service, has operated over 1 million rides across 10 Chinese cities since its launch in 2020.

Baidu has not reported any problems with the service and has not given a breakdown for how much it has invested in the project.

© Thomson Reuters 2022


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Tesla to Face US Agency Probe Into Two Crashes That Killed Motorcyclists

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Two crashes involving Teslas apparently running on Autopilot are drawing scrutiny from federal regulators and point to a potential new hazard on U.S. freeways: The partially automated vehicles may not stop for motorcycles. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sent investigation teams to two crashes last month in which Teslas collided with motorcycles on freeways in the darkness. Both were fatal.

The agency suspects that Tesla’s partially automated driver-assist system was in use in each. The agency says that once it gathers more information, it may include the crashes in an broader probe of Teslas striking emergency vehicles parked along freeways. NHTSA also is investigating over 750 complaints that Teslas can brake for no reason.

The first crash involving a motorcyclist happened at 4:47 a.m. July 7 on State Route 91, a freeway in Riverside, California. A white Tesla Model Y SUV was traveling east in the high occupancy vehicle lane. Ahead of it was a rider on a green Yamaha V-Star motorcycle, the California Highway Patrol said in a statement.

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At some point, the vehicles collided, and the unidentified motorcyclist was ejected from the Yamaha. He was pronounced dead at the scene by the Fire Department.

Whether or not the Tesla was operating on Autopilot remains under investigation, a CHP spokesman said.

The second crash happened about 1:09 a.m. July 24 on Interstate 15 near Draper, Utah. A Tesla Model 3 sedan was behind a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, also in an HOV lane. “The driver of the Tesla did not see the motorcyclist and collided with the back of the motorcycle, which threw the rider from the bike,” the Utah Department of Public Safety said in a prepared statement.

The rider, identified as Landon Embry, 34, of Orem, Utah, died at the scene. The Tesla driver told authorities that he had the vehicle’s Autopilot setting on, the statement said.

Michael Brooks, acting executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, called on NHTSA to recall Tesla’s Autopilot because it is not recognizing motorcyclists, emergency vehicles or pedestrians.

“It’s pretty clear to me, and it should be to a lot of Tesla owners by now, this stuff isn’t working properly and it’s not going to live up to the expectations, and it is putting innocent peole in danger on the roads,” Brooks said.

Since 2016, NHTSA has sent teams to 39 crashes in which automated driving systems are suspected of being in use, according to agency documents. Of those, 30 involved Teslas, including crashes that caused 19 deaths.

Brooks criticized the agency for continuing to investigate but not taking action. “What the Hell are they doing while these crashes continue to occur?” he asked. “Drivers are being lured into thinking this protects them and others on the roads, and it’s just not working.”

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Musk has eliminated use of radar from his systems and relies solely on cameras and computer memory. Brooks and other safety advocates say the lack of radar hurts vision in the darkness.

Messages were left seeking comment from Tesla, which has disbanded its media relations department.

Tesla has said that Autopilot and “Full Self-Driving” cannot drive themselves, and that drivers should be ready to intervene at all times.

In a June interview, new NHTSA Administrator Steven Cliff said the agency is intensifying efforts to understand risks posed by automated vehicles so it can decide what regulations may be necessary to protect drivers, passengers and pedestrians. There are no federal regulations that directly cover either self-driving vehicles or those with partially automated driver-assist systems such as Autopilot.

The agency also says the technology holds great promise of reducing traffic crashes.

NHTSA also has ordered all automakers and tech companies with automated driving systems to report all crashes. The agency released the first batch of data in June showing that nearly 400 crashes were reported over a 10-month period, including 273 with Teslas. But it cautioned against making comparisons, saying that Tesla’s telematics allow it to gather data in real time, much faster than other companies.

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Tesla’s Autopilot keeps cars in their lane and a distance behind other vehciles. The company also is using selected owners to test “Full Self-Driving” software, which is designed to complete a route on its own with human supervision. Eventually, Tesla CEO Elon Musk says the cars will drive themselves, enabling a fleet of autonomous robotaxis that will boost Tesla’s earnings. In 2019, Musk had pledged to have the robo-taxis running in 2020.

He said at the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting Thursday that “Full Self-Driving” is greatly improved, and he expects to make the software available by the end of the year to all owners who request it.


What should you make of Realme’s three new offerings? We discuss them on Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast. Orbital is available on Spotify, Gaana, JioSaavn, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music and wherever you get your podcasts.

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