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New documentary highlights Elon Musk’s promises on self-driving

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New York Times Reporter Cade Metz sits down with Yahoo Finance Live to talk about the new documentary "Crash Course" that shines light on Elon Musk's outlook for self-driving cars and his role as a corporate leader.

Video transcript

DAVE BRIGGS: Elon Musk managed to meet with one of the few people more controversial than himself, sitting down with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro today, discussing SpaceX technology. Elon also adding that he expects Tesla to have a fully self-driving car by next year. Cade Metz has heard that before. He's the reporter behind "The New York Times" documentary, "Elon Musk's Crash Course," which debuts tonight at 10:00 Eastern on FX. Cade, good to see you. You have certainly heard that before. The things that Elon has said over the years about autonomous cars, are they based in science or science fiction?

CADE METZ: Well, let's say science fiction. This is a common thing in Silicon Valley to look towards the future, but act like that future is here. And the entire industry has promised self-driving would be here by now. You know, 2020 was the big day. But Elon Musk has taken this to extremes, right? He promised this in 2018, 2019, 2020. We and he and his company keep missing those dates, but he keeps making new promises. The reality here is very different. A car that can truly drive by itself and do anything that a human can do on the road, that's still many years away, perhaps a decade or more away.

SEANA SMITH: Yeah, Cade, talking about that, because I think you were able to test drive as well and really test this auto drive system here, what did you find out for yourself? Was there anything while you were doing this that surprised you?

CADE METZ: Well, I mean, I just think it's important to define our terms here. There are two different things we're talking about. Tesla has long had a product called autopilot. It's wrong to call that a self-driving system, right? That's an assisted driving system. It helps you on the highways. Other companies offer this. It keeps in the lane. It does cruise control. It can brake on its own, in certain cases.

Separately, Elon Musk and Tesla offer what they call full self-driving technology. That's a misnomer. It's also something that's still in beta test. A few thousand people have access to this system. And it's designed to do more of this type of thing on city streets.

But it's limited. Like autopilot, the driver is required to keep their hands on the wheel at all times, keep their eyes on the road, to take control of the car as needed. That's very different from, say, what you're even seeing in this video, as I speak, right? There are cases where the car can drive itself, but the driver has to keep alert and has to take control of the car as needed.

DAVE BRIGGS: The documentary, Cade, also explores when there were crashes. How did Elon respond to the criticism and the investigations?

CADE METZ: Well, that's a complicated question. One thing that you'll see in the documentary is that as investigators, federal investigators, started to look into this, he got very angry. There's a moment where he threatens to sue the federal government, just because they say they're going to open an investigation. You know, he operates this way frequently, right? He is-- he's loath to accept criticism. He believes that his path is the right one. And he doesn't like this sort of thing to get into his way. You see this quite a bit in the documentary.

SEANA SMITH: And Cade, going off of that, because we know Elon is a very public man. He often has public spats with people on Twitter. There was reports this week, or just today, actually, that there's SpaceX fraud-- or SpaceX, 250-- that they paid for $250,000 to a flight attendant who accused Elon Musk of sexual misconduct. Then we have his outlandish behavior on Twitter and what he's been doing with the latest deal when it comes to Elon Musk buying Twitter. All this to say, what do you learn about the corporate culture that Elon Musk fosters, from the number of former employees that you spoke with?

CADE METZ: He does take a real control over the companies that he runs. One way to think about this is that he wants to fully govern these individual technical projects. Autopilot is a good example. He, in essence, wants to lead this project, right down to the bits and bytes of how it's built.

He may or may not have the expertise, in some cases, to do that, but that's the way he wants to run these companies. As he's doing that, he can often be-- people have described him as emotionally unstable. You know, he governs these companies by whim, oftentimes. That can come out as anger. That can come out in other ways. But he really does control the operation of these individual projects in ways that the average tech CEO does not.

DAVE BRIGGS: Wow, interesting insights there. What do you learn from his leadership style in terms of-- I know you didn't talk to him-- how his employees respond to him, respect him?

CADE METZ: It really varies. So some employees really believe what he is telling them and telling the public. When he says that full self-driving will be here within a year, there are true believers inside these companies who really believe that. There are other people who don't believe that in the slightest. They didn't believe it at the time that this was promised years ago. They don't believe it now. Some of them are on camera in this documentary, willing to say that they did not believe these things and don't believe them now.

But again, there are others who really back the man and continue to back the man. Even if, deep down, they know what he's saying in the moment is not true or exaggerated, they believe in his larger vision and are willing to work for him and are willing to push towards that vision.

DAVE BRIGGS: Well, sir, I know what I'm doing at 10 o'clock Eastern time tonight. That was very intriguing. "Elon Musk's Crash Course" tonight at 10:00 on FX. Cade Metz from "The New York Times," thank you, sir.

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