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Tesla lays off hundreds of Autopilot workers in latest cuts

Tesla's factory in Fremont, Calif.
Tesla’s factory in Fremont, Calif. The automaker is trimming the ranks of its salaried staff as Chief Executive Elon Musk braces for a downturn.
(David Butow / For The Times)

Tesla Inc. laid off hundreds of workers on its Autopilot team as the electric-vehicle maker shuttered a California facility, according to people familiar with the matter, one of the larger known cuts amid a broad workforce reduction.

Affected employees were notified Tuesday, according to the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private information. Teams at the San Mateo office were tasked with evaluating customer vehicle data related to the Autopilot driver-assistance features and performing so-called data labeling.

About 200 workers were let go, according to one of the people. Many of the staff were data annotation specialists. The office had about 350 employees, some of whom were transferred to a nearby facility.

Tesla didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The cuts are part of an effort to trim the ranks of salaried staffers as Tesla pulls back from a surge in hiring in recent years. The company, now headquartered in Austin, Texas, had grown to about 100,000 employees globally as it built new factories in Austin and Berlin.

An expanded investigation into collisions with parked emergency vehicles is the latest sign that regulators are stepping up scrutiny of Tesla’s automated driving features.

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Chief Executive Elon Musk caught workers by surprise this month when he said layoffs would be necessary in an increasingly shaky economic environment. He clarified in an interview with Bloomberg that about 10% of salaried employees would lose their jobs over the next three months, though the overall head count could be higher in a year.

The electric-vehicle market leader’s downsizing efforts have focused on areas that grew too quickly. Some human resources workers and software engineers are known to have been laid off, and in some cases, the cuts have hit employees who had worked at the company for just a few weeks.

Those affected by the latest move worked on one of the higher-profile features in Tesla vehicles. In job postings, Tesla has described labeled data as the “critical ingredient for training powerful Deep Neural Networks, which help drive the Tesla vehicles autonomously.”

Staffers in Buffalo, N.Y., and San Mateo spent hours labeling images for cars and the environment they navigate, such as street signs and traffic lanes.

Tesla’s shares closed at $697.99, down 5%. The stock has tumbled 34% this year through Tuesday’s close, compared with a 20% decline in the SP 500 index.


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