Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) may be under investigation for the timing of its disclosure of the deadly Model S accident which occurred while Autopilot mode was engaged. The news comes just as we’re hearing about a third accident involving a Tesla in which Autopilot might have been engaged.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the Securities and Exchange Commission is looking into the automaker’s handling of the fatal accident, which occurred in May but wasn’t reported to investors until this month. The newspaper cites an unnamed source familiar with the matter.
Why was there a delay in reporting the wreck?
The deadly Model S accident occurred on May 7, killing 40-year-old driver Joshua Brown when the car crashed into an 18-wheeler that pulled out in front of him on a highway in Florida. Tesla informed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about the crash and began investigating whether the Model S had the Autopilot system engaged. However, the automaker did not disclose the deadly accident to investors via a securities filing.
The NHTSA began investigating Tesla’s Autopilot system then, and the National Transportation Safety Board is probing the accident to figure out if it reveals any serious problems related to the development of self-driving vehicle technology and investigations of accidents involving vehicles using such technology, the WSJ added, citing a spokesperson for the agency.
Was the accident a “material event” for Tesla?
The newspaper explained that the SEC’s investigation pertains to whether the deadly Model S crash was a “material event” or an event that a reasonable investor would consider to be important for Tesla. If so, then the automaker should have disclosed the deadly Model S crash to investors via a securities filing. The WSJ’s source added that the SEC’s probe is still in the very early stages and that it might not result in any enforcement action.
A spokesperson for Tesla directed the newspaper to a blog post by the company which asserts that the deadly accident did not have to be disclosed to investors. The automaker also said it was the first in over 130 million miles that have been driven using its Autopilot system.
Tesla reportedly learned about the crash not long after it happened and then told auto safety regulators on May 16 when it opened its own investigation. However, it didn’t mention the wreck in any securities filings, most notably the May 18 filing in which it announced its intention to sell $2 billion in a fresh stock offering round. Tesla CEO Elon Musk sold 2.8 million shares in the offering, which the automaker said was to fulfill tax requirements. The shares were sold May 18 and 19.
Tesla shares declined more than 1% to as low as $222.37 in after-hours trades on Monday.