Elon Musk meets every week with senior managers overseeing the engineers behind Tesla’s Autopilot, the company’s semi-automated highway driving feature. Often he calls into the meeting while driving his Model S Tesla, using Autopilot, said one participant. And it’s not just to save time. Mr. Musk is testing updates to the software as he drives—his car is equipped with special settings for Autopilot—and he uses the meeting to call out bugs as they happen or that he encountered over the previous week.
His personal involvement in testing Tesla’s software reflects how important Autopilot is to Tesla. Mr. Musk has made the feature a big part of his pitch to investors, even as its safety is heavily debated across the auto industry, following high-profile collisions. Some analysts think the Autopilot gives Tesla an edge in the race to automate driving, which has likely aided Tesla’s stock rally in recent years. Mr. Musk has even suggested Tesla could use a future version of Autopilot to power a robotaxi service. The risk for Tesla, though, is if the safety incidents become more frequent as Tesla puts more cars on the road.