Elon Musk and thousands of Tesla’s die-hard fans and customers are in an uproar about NHTSA’s new pick as its senior safety adviser. 

Their target is Mary “Missy” Cummings, a Duke University professor critical of Tesla’s Autopilot software who was chosen this week for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration role. The former U.S. Navy pilot is also on the board of Veoneer, a Swedish company that is being acquired by Qualcomm. Musk, Tesla’s chief executive officer, has scorned the laser-based technology called lidar that’s promoted by Veoneer and has been adopted by rival automakers.

“Objectively, her track record is extremely biased against Tesla,” Musk wrote in a Twitter post Tuesday. 

By Wednesday afternoon, more than 11,800 Tesla supporters had signed a petition on Change.org urging President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, NHTSA and the Office of Personnel Management to review the appointment.

Cummings responded to Musk with a tweet of her own, saying she would be “happy to sit down and talk with you anytime.” She declined to comment when reached.

NHTSA has launched several crash investigations into Tesla’s autopilot technology. In August, the agency opened a defect investigation that focuses on autopilot and crashes into firetrucks, police cars and first responder scenes. 


Cummings in 2020 called it laughable that Tesla had promoted the era as the year of the robotaxi, saying that her lab’s experiments showed autopilot “was not even close to being ready.” It’s only in recent weeks that Tesla has been rolling out a beta version of what it calls “FSD,” for Full Self Driving, software to select customers and employees. 

“We expect and embrace the scrutiny of these products and know the truth about the performance will ultimately be all that matters,” Lars Moravy, Tesla’s vice president of engineering, said when asked about the situation on Wednesday’s earnings conference call.

Cummings would be considered a federal employee under the Ethics in Government Act, so any possible conflicts of interest will likely be resolved before she begins at NHTSA. The agency said it is “delighted to welcome Dr. Cummings to our team and look forward to leveraging her experience and leadership in safety and autonomous technologies.”