California regulator accuses Tesla of falsely advertising on autopilot
The California Department of Automobiles has accused Tesla of falsely advertising its driver assistance technology in two complaints that could affect the company’s ability to sell cars in the state.
The agency said Tesla misled customers by claiming in advertisements that vehicles equipped with autopilot software and full self-driving capability were self-driving. If the agency’s complaints to the state’s Office of Administrative Hearings are successful, Tesla’s licenses to manufacture and sell vehicles in California can be suspended or revoked.
The agency said in its complaints filed on July 28.
The Los Angeles Times earlier reported on the agency’s complaints, which are separate from its review of Tesla’s car designs and technology capabilities.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk and the company’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday night.
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In marketing materials on its website, Tesla said its driver assistance technology is capable of making trips “without any action required by the person in the driver’s seat.” Although Tesla disclaimed that the software “requires active driver supervision,” the claim and others were false and misleading, the agency said.
Autopilot, available since 2015, is a system that can steer, brake, and accelerate company cars on their own. But it is primarily designed for use on the highway, and the company’s documentation requires drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel and control the vehicle in the event of a system failure.
Its name is borrowed from Flight Systems that allow aircraft to fly in ideal conditions with limited pilot input. With the current system, the car will turn off the autopilot if drivers don’t constantly keep their hands on the steering wheel.
For the average buyer, the added features are minimal. When used on city streets, for example, the car will stop at a red light, but will not advance past the green light unless the driver intervenes.
In May, Mr. Musk said about 100,000 fully self-driving buyers had access to a trial version of the “demo” service that could navigate city streets on a larger scale – while drivers continued to keep their hands on the steering wheel in case something went wrong. He also said that the “complete self-driving” feature will be “complete” by the end of the year and will be available to nearly one million car owners.
At the end of 2015, the year Autopilot debuted, Mr. Musk began saying that Teslas would drive itself in two years. In the years that followed, he repeatedly claimed that such an ability was only a year or two away.
“There is a lot of false dawn with self-driving,” he said in May. “You think you have a fix for the problem and then – no – it turns out you hit the ceiling.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the nation’s leading auto safety regulator, is investigating the autopilot program after learning of 35 accidents involving the system, including nine that resulted in 14 deaths. Its investigation covers 830,000 cars sold in the United States and will consider fully autonomous driving in addition to autopilot.
Tesla has until Friday to dispute or respond to the California Automobile Administration’s charges.