Entrepreneurs

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak: There's 'way too much hype' around Elon Musk's Tesla

Steve Wozniak speaking at eMerge in Miami on June 12, 2017.
David A. Grogan | CNBC
Steve Wozniak speaking at eMerge in Miami on June 12, 2017.

Elon Musk is the darling of the tech-obsessed. He's charmed leaders, fans and customers around the world. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, however, is one iconic entrepreneur who is not as easily entranced by the Silicon Valley golden boy.

There is "way too much hype" around Tesla, says Wozniak, speaking to CNBC's Deirdre Bosa at the Money20/20 conference in Las Vegas on Sunday. "And if [Tesla says] something is going to happen, don't quite count on it," says Wozniak.

Wozniak says Tesla's promotions about its cars' self-driving capabilities are overblown and lead people to trust the "autopilot" feature more than they should.

"Tesla has in people's mind that they have cars that will just drive themselves totally, and it is so far from the truth, so they have deceived us," says Wozniak.

In October of 2016, Musk announced all Teslas would be produced with the hardware necessary for full self-driving capability and released a video promoting a "summon" feature, allowing owners to call their Teslas with a tap on a smartphone, "even if you are on the other side of the country." Again, just this week, Musk tweeted about how the Tesla will know where you want to go without you having to tell it.

"In a lot of ways, Tesla is behind companies like Volvo and Audi." -Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple

A 2017 Wall Street Journal investigation revealed the autonomous push from Musk has caused conflict in the ranks of Tesla's engineers. When Musk made the announcement that all Teslas would be equipped with the technology to be fully autonomous, Tesla engineers felt they didn't yet have a product that would safely do that, the Wall Street Journal reported.

No Tesla is fully self-driving, or autonomous, and autopilot still requires drivers to be active and pay attention to the road. According to the company's website, Tesla's autopilot feature is able to do things like match speed to traffic conditions, keep within a lane, change lanes without driver input, transition from one freeway to another, exit the freeway, park itself and be summoned to and from your garage.

But the misconception of the self-driving ability of Tesla vehicles can be hazardous, Wozniak says.

"Sometimes Teslas are dangerous because of what they call 'autopilot,'" says Wozniak. "You get thinking, 'Oh, it is easy, I can reach over and not look for a few seconds,' and that is the second your car drifts over the line," he says, adding that it is "easy to make mistakes, especially certain weather conditions and whatnot."

Wozniak, who owns a Tesla and says he downloads the latest available Tesla software update when it becomes available, is not always impressed.

"Driving my Tesla, over and over and over there are unusual situations on any road anywhere and every single human being alive — dumb or smart — would be able to get through it and the Tesla can't," the Apple co-founder says.

"Is Tesla ever going to be able to detect things like red lights and stop signs?" he asks.

Tesla's autopilot technology has come under intense scrutiny since a driver died while using the technology in May 2016. The National Transportation Safety Board announced in September that the cause of the accident was threefold: the semitrailer didn't yield the right of way to the Tesla driver, the Tesla driver was relying too heavily on the Autopilot system and the Autopilot system didn't warn the Tesla driver about the truck appropriately.

At the time, Tesla said self-driving technology has a history of being safer than cars driven by humans and it would continue to improve its technology. "We will also continue to be extremely clear with current and potential customers that Autopilot is not a fully self-driving technology and drivers need to remain attentive at all times."

Other car-makers are ahead of Tesla when it comes to autonomous driving, Wozniak says.

"In a lot of ways, Tesla is behind companies like Volvo and Audi," he says.

Wozniak is not alone in his sentiments. Research and brokerage firm Bernstein published a report in September downplaying Tesla's autonomous driving claims. Bernstein analyst Max Warburton called Tesla's self-driving capabilities "exaggerated."

Even while Wozniak criticizes the autonomous driving capabilities of Tesla, he does not begrudge the company's valuation — as of Tuesday its market cap was north of $56 billion — for its work in making electric vehicles more mainstream.

"Tesla has done something that is so important to me," says Wozniak. "I mean transitioning from gas driven cars to electric cars for a future, it is part of our cleanliness formula."

Tesla had not responded to CNBC Make It's request for comment by the time this story was published.

See also:

German carmakers may top Tesla on autonomy

Tesla Autopilot system's 'limitations' played 'major role' in 2016 crash: NTSB

Man killed in Tesla 'Autopilot' crash got numerous warnings: Report

Tesla hires prominent A.I. researcher as Autopilot chief Lattner leaves