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Tesla Slammed By Consumer Groups For Autopilot 'Deceptive Advertising'

By David R. Baker, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

May 22, 2018

https://www.sfchronicle.com/business/article/Tesla-slammed-by-consumer-…

With Tesla’s Autopilot system under scrutiny following recent crashes, two consumer groups on Wednesday asked federal authorities to investigate the automaker for “dangerously misleading and deceptive advertising,” saying the company made its system seem closer to self-driving technology than it truly is.

In a letter to the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Watchdog and the Center for Auto Safety argue that Tesla’s website and comments from CEO Elon Musk had led drivers to believe that cars operating under Autopilot are fully autonomous. Instead, they argue, Autopilot is closer to the lane-keeping technology found on many modern cars.

First introduced in 2015, Autopilot was faulted in a fatal 2016 collision in Florida. Federal investigators are now exploring its possible role in the March crash of a Tesla Model X in Mountain View, as well as a crash in Utah in which the driver broke her foot. Autopilot was engaged during both of those incidents, with the Utah driver saying she had been looking at her phone when her Model S hit a fire truck.

“Two Americans are dead and one is injured as a result of Tesla deceiving and misleading consumers into believing that the Autopilot feature of its vehicles is safer and more capable than it actually is,” the letter from the groups reads.

The company in response said it’s customers understand the functions of the Autopilot system.

“The feedback that we get from our customers shows that they have a very clear understanding of what Autopilot is, how to properly use it, and what features it consists of,” a Tesla spokeswoman said.

One example the consumer groups cite is the Autopilot page of Tesla’s website.

The top of the page bears the headline “Full Self-Driving Hardware on All Cars,” and says, “All Tesla vehicles produced in our factory, including Model 3, have the hardware needed for full self-driving capability at a safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver.”

Musk has said that the cars’ hardware suite — a combination of cameras, radar and ultrasonic sensors — will be capable of enabling fully autonomous driving in the future. Both he and the company, however, also emphasize that Autopilot is not fully autonomous.

Tesla warns its drivers of many conditions that can reduce Autopilot’s performance, including heavy rain, direct sunlight hitting the cameras, driving on hills and approaching toll booths. Those warnings, however, are not on the website’s main Autopilot page.

The complaint also takes issue with Musk’s frequent claims that Autopilot improves safety. Musk this month said that Tesla would soon begin publicly releasing Autopilot safety data to back those claims.

Consumer Watchdog, based in Santa Monica, has become a frequent, outspoken critic of self-driving technology, arguing that state and federal government agencies alike are not properly regulating its development. The Center for Auto Safety was founded in 1970 by Ralph Nader.

David R. Baker is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @DavidBakerSF

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