Tesla lays off about 200 Autopilot workers in latest cuts

By Ed LudlowDana Hull

About 200 workers were let go, according to one of the people. Many of the staff were data annotation specialists, and the roles included salaried and contract positions. — AFP

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 on June 28, 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 labelling.

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About 200 workers were let go, according to one of the people. Many of the staff were data annotation specialists, and the roles included salaried and contract positions. 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 the 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.

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Chief executive officer Elon Musk caught workers by surprise earlier 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 headcount could be higher in a year.

The EV 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 said that labelled data is the “critical ingredient for training powerful Deep Neural Networks, which help drive the Tesla vehicles autonomously”. Staffers in Buffalo, New York, and San Mateo spent hours labelling images for cars and the environment they navigate, such as street signs and traffic lanes.

Tesla’s shares fell less than 1% as of 5.59pm after regular trading in New York. The stock tumbled 34% this year through Tuesday’s close, compared with a 20% decline in the SP 500 Index. – Bloomberg

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