Mary Louise "Missy" Cummings, a Duke University professor of engineering, has been named the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's new senior safety adviser, putting her at the forefront of any regulatory disputes surrounding autonomous driving technology.
She's been very critical of Tesla's approach to complete self-driving in the past, and her choice could harm the company's fortunes.
Cummings also has a conflict of interest as an independent board member of Veoneer, a car parts manufacturer.
The Swiss car components provider specializes in active safety systems and driver assistance technology, such as LIDAR, a laser sensor that can scan the area and build comprehensive three-dimensional maps.
A group of Tesla supporters has started an online petition demanding that Cummings' nomination be reviewed.
Supporters of Tesla believe Cummings has a vested interest in seeing the EV pioneer fail, especially because Musk has claimed that Veoneer is too expensive and useless for complete self-driving.
Tesla is even included in Veoneer's most recent annual report as a firm that could compete with it in the "Significant business opportunities afforded by autonomous driving."
The NHTSA and Tesla have been at odds in the past.
Following a series of high-profile accidents, the federal government gave Tesla a list of requests for information about the more basic autopilot feature that comes standard in every car, with a deadline of Oct. 22.
More recently, the NHTSA reportedly chastised Tesla for attempting to quickly address a potential safety concern with the way its cars drive on regular autopilot while emergency vehicles had pulled over to the side of the road. Normally, this would necessitate Tesla revealing its plans and outlining a potential solution, but Musk instead simply sent the software upgrade to the fleet without consulting the highway safety agency first.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration isn't the only federal agency with issues with Tesla.
Last month, Jennifer Homendy, the new head of the National Transportation Safety Board, advised that the automaker should not roll out new beta versions to its broader U.S. customer base until safety issues are resolved.
Some Tesla supporters believe the administration of Joe Biden is to blame for the rising political headwinds.
Cummings, who herself retweeted the news of her appointment on Tuesday, may have an obsessive fascination with Tesla-critical accounts.
She appears to be following a number of well-known bears and Musk opponents on Twitter, including Tesla bear Jim Chanos, while blocking a number of pro-Tesla accounts.
Some of Tesla's most ardent supporters are now worried—some, maybe unwittingly—that the Biden administration is out to hurt the company.
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