Tesla CEO Elon Musk conducts Twitter engineer search

Tesla founder and chief executive Elon Musk walks

Tesla founder and chief executive Elon Musk walks past the Tesla Model S after a news conference at the Tesla factory in Fremont, Calif. (Credit: AP, 2012)

Elon Musk, Tesla Motors Inc.’s unconventional chief executive officer, has turned to Twitter Inc. to further his goal of developing self-driving cars by posting a “help wanted” ad on the social media site.

Musk, who told Bloomberg in May that Tesla would eventually develop its own “autopilot” technology for cars, wrote in a post on Twitter yesterday that the Palo Alto, Calif.-based maker of electric cars is serious about developing such a system.

“Intense effort under way at Tesla to develop a practical autopilot system for Model S,” said Musk, 42. “Engineers interested in working on autonomous driving, pls email autopilot@teslamotors.com. Team will report directly to me.”


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Tesla, which has seen its market value top $20 billion this year, is intent on becoming the world’s most profitable seller of battery-powered autos, using technology designed in-house. The company plans this year to deliver 21,000 of its flagship Model S sedans, priced from about $70,000, and double that volume next year as sales in Europe and Asia expand.

‘Mr. Non-Traditional’

Google Inc. in recent years has drawn attention for its efforts to develop a self-driving car, and Nissan Motor Co. said last month it would sell so-called autonomous cars by 2020.

“This is the topic du jour in the auto industry, and Tesla wants to be seen as being part of the movement,” said Karl Brauer, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book in Irvine, Calif.

Musk is also “Mr. Non-Traditional in the auto industry, and seems to love that image,” Brauer said. “Putting a help wanted ad on Twitter on this completely confirms that image.”

Technologies that can take over for drivers are a logical step in the evolution of cars, Musk said in May. He’s talked with Google about the self-driving technology it’s developing, though prefers to think of applications that are akin to an airplane’s autopilot system. Musk also runs rocket maker Space Exploration Technologies Corp. and co-founded PayPal Inc.

'Autopilot’

“I like the word autopilot more than I like the word self- driving,” Musk said in the interview. “Self-driving sounds like it’s going to do something you don’t want it to do. Autopilot is a good thing to have in planes, and we should have it in cars.”

Musk has more than 380,000 Twitter followers, many of whom will resend his comments to others, so his post seeking autopilot engineers may be seen by more people than would look at the Los Angeles Times’ classified ads, for example, Brauer said.

“I think he’ll do pretty well,” he said.

Musk’s net worth has more than tripled this year to more than $8 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

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