The body of a Tesla Model S is lifted by a robot crane at the Tesla plant in Fremont, California. File photo: Stephen Lam / Reuters

Washington DC - Tesla boss Elon Musk has told employees the company is undergoing a "thorough reorganisation" as it contends with production problems, senior staff departures and recent crashes involving its electric cars.

In his email to staff, Musk said Tesla was "flattening the management structure to improve communication," combining functions and trimming activities "not vital to the success of our mission" in the reorganisation.

Tesla is at a critical juncture as it tries to fix the inauspicious launch of the Model 3 sedan, a mid-market car crucial to its success and future profitability that has been plagued by early production problems.

Amid the manufacturing problems, senior Tesla executives have departed or cut back work. Waymo said on Sunday that Matthew Schwall had joined it from Tesla, where he was its main technical contact with US safety investigators, and last week Tesla said senior vice president of engineering Doug Field was taking time off to recharge.

The company is developing multiple new vehicles, including a semi truck, and has registered a new car firm in Shanghai in a probable step towards production in China.

Safety probes

On 2 May Musk said Tesla would conduct "a reorganisation restructuring" during May, without providing more details. He added that he would reduce the number of third-party contracting companies engaged by Tesla, equating them with "barnacles" needing to be scrubbed off.

Musk said in Monday's email Tesla would still rapidly hire people to fill critical positions "to support the Model 3 production ramp and future product development".

The company faces a number of other issues, from increased scepticism over its finances to safety probes by regulators.

On 2 May a US traffic safety regulator contradicted Tesla's claim that the agency had found that its Autopilot technology significantly reduced crashes. Autopilot, a form of advanced cruise control, handles some driving tasks and warns those behind the wheel they are always responsible for the vehicle's safe operation.

In a Twitter post on Monday, Musk denied a Wall Street Journal report that Tesla had rejected a system that would have tracked driver eye movement when using Autopilot for cost reasons.

"This is false," Musk wrote. "Eyetracking rejected for being ineffective, not for cost. WSJ fails to mention that Tesla is safest car on road, which would make article ridiculous. Approx 4X better than avg," Musk said. He said Tesla's record of one fatality every 512 million kilometres compared favourably with the 2017 national average of 138 million kilometres, according to safety regulators.

In another Twitter message on Monday, Musk said the "probability of fatality is much lower in a Tesla," saying Tesla would begin reporting safety numbers from the second quarter of 2018.

Active probes

On Monday firefighters in Switzerland said a fatal accident involving a Tesla may have set off a fire in the car's battery. It was the latest accident involving a Tesla.

On Friday night a Tesla Model S sedan traveling at about 97km/h smashed into a fire engine that was stopped at a red light about 30 kilometres south of Salt Lake City, Utah. Police said the driver, who suffered a broken ankle, said she had been using Autopilot before the crash.

The National Transportation Safety Board said it was not investigating the Utah crash, and Tesla said it had not yet received car data and did not yet know the facts, including whether Autopilot was engaged.

The National Transportation Safety Board said last week it was investigating a Tesla accident in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on 8 May that killed two teenagers and injured another - the agency's fourth active probe into Tesla crashes.