SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Super Bowl viewers in some cities saw a pair of hard-hitting spots funded by a California tech pioneer and entrepreneur, calling on the public to boycott Tesla "to keep your family safe."
Dan O'Dowd, founder of Santa Barbara-based cybersecurity company Green Hills Software, has been behind a campaign known as The Dawn Project, which has been targeting Elon Musk and Tesla’s Autopilot technology as part of its stated mission "to make computers safe for humanity."
In a statement to KTVU, O'Dowd said, "Our two Super Bowl commercials this year urge the US public to boycott Tesla to hold the automaker to account for its failure to address critical safety defects in its self-driving software, which have resulted in numerous fatal collisions. When you buy a new Tesla you are financing and enabling Elon Musk to put a dangerous, unfinished, product on our public roads."
The Dawn Project spent more than half a million dollars on the 30-second ads, which included videos of Teslas driving around school bus stop signs and taking down child-sized mannequins. It also referenced a Tesla crash that left a teenage student with life-threatening injuries.
On Sunday, O’Dowd used Elon Musk’s X platform to share the commercials and his boycott message.
The post was accompanied by a disclaimer that read, "The news video of the child being hit by a driver was actually not a Tesla Full Self Driving related incident. All news articles say the driver was driving manually. Mr. O’Dowd has been known to use cheat devices on Tesla steering wheels to trick the car into driving itself."
The Dawn Project has accused Musk of misleading the public about the safety of his Autopilot technology, saying, "He sells defective self-driving software by telling consumers it is many times safer than a human driver, when in fact it drives like a drunk teenager."
In December, Tesla recalled more than 2 million of its vehicles due to a defective system that’s supposed to ensure drivers are paying attention when they use Autopilot.
The recall followed a two-year investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which looked into a series of crashes, some deadly, that happened while Teslas were suspected of operating on a partially automated driving system.
The Dawn Project has been a leading critic of Tesla’s Autopilot technology. Since 2022, it has launched aggressive advertising blitzes, including similar ads during last year's Super Bowl, targeting Musk for not disabling the self-driving software on Teslas, which the project called dangerous and defective.
And now, The Dawn Project wants to put some of the responsibility on consumers to take action.
"Anyone who buys a Tesla from Elon Musk is an enabler for his reckless behavior, including his self-driving experiments that have resulted in over 1,000 crashes and at least 33 tragic deaths," the project wrote on its website.
O’Dowd and his group said they've launched many efforts to persuade Musk to stop using the Autopilot software.
"However, it seems that the only thing that will pressure Tesla and Elon Musk to do the right thing is to deny them your money," O’Dowd said, adding, "Boycott Tesla now to keep your kids and families safe from Tesla’s self-driving cars."
The Super Bowl ads aired in Santa Barbara, Washington D.C., Dover, Delaware and Traverse City, Michigan.
KTVU reached out to Tesla for comment but did not immediately receive a response.
This story was reported from Oakland, Calif.