Travis Kalanick’s Texts to Anthony Levandowski Show Disdain for Google, Tesla

Levandowski proposed a “@FakeTesla” Twitter campaign to challenge Elon Musk.

byStephen Edelstein| PUBLISHED Aug 16, 2017 10:34 AM
Travis Kalanick’s Texts to Anthony Levandowski Show Disdain for Google, Tesla

Thanks to court filings, Waymo's lawsuit against Uber has provided a peek into the ride-sharing giant's inner workings. Uber filed a series of text messages between ex-CEO Travis Kalanick and Anthony Levandowski, the former Uber self-driving car engineer at the center of the suit. They show that Kalanick and Levandowski spent a lot of time talking about the competition. Messages pulled from the filing by Recode include lengthy discussions of Google and Tesla. 

While it's not surprising to see executives at a major corporation scoping out the competition, Kalanick and Levandowski took things to a different level of intensity. Waymo (the former Google self-driving car project) claims Levandowski stole 14,000 files before leaving the company, and then passing them on to Uber when the ride-sharing firm bought his self-driving truck startup, Otto. Uber denies this, and has said Kalanick approached Google about a self-driving car partnership, which Google allegedly declined.

But Kalanick and Levandowski seemed just as focused on Tesla as Google, based on the texts. In one message dated September 22, 2016, Levandowski suggested creating an "@FakeTesla" Twitter account to dispute Tesla CEO Elon Musk's statements on autonomous driving tech. Specifically, Levandowski questioned Musk's claims that self-driving cars don't need lidar, implying that Musk lacked a basic grasp of the physics involved.

In separate messages, Levandowski shared a number of articles about Tesla, including one reporting that Tesla would develop an autonomous truck, rivaling his own work at Otto. He also implied that Musk was lying about the rate of crashes involving Tesla Autopilot, saying "we should have LDP on tesla just to catch all the crashes that are going on."

Levandowski and Kalanick also spent plenty of text time discussing Levandowski's former employer: Google. In one message, Levandowski said the prospect of Google integrating Waze with Android Auto "scares the shit out of me." In another message, Levandowski described a quote from a newspaper article on self-driving cars that specifically described Uber's autonomous cars as better than Google's to be the "best quote so far."

Other companies, including General Motors, Lyft, and startup NuTonomy, were mentioned in the conversations as well. But Kalanick and Levandowski discussed Tesla and Google above all other contenders to the self-driving car crown. Whether those two companies really posed the biggest threat or not, it seems Uber wanted to beat them at all costs.