Brand new Tesla cars stand in a parking lot at a Tesla showroom in Corte Madera, California, on June 27, 2022.
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The California Department of Motor Vehicles has accused Tesla of misleading practices around the marketing of its driver assistance systems, which are called Autopilot and Full Self Driving in the US, according to a filing with a government agency.
Elon Musk’s electric car company risks more than its reputation — in the worst case scenario, the company could temporarily lose the licenses that allow it to operate as a California automaker and dealership.
In a pair of July 28 filings with the California Office of Administrative Hearings, a DMV official and attorneys wrote:
Rather than simply identifying product or brand names, these ‘Autopilot’ and ‘Full Self-Driving Capability’ labels and descriptions indicate that vehicles equipped with the ADAS features will operate as an autonomous vehicle, but vehicles equipped with the ADAS equipped with those ADAS features wouldn’t be able to at the time of those ads, and can’t operate as autonomous vehicles now.”
California DMV deputy director for the Office of Public Affairs, Anita Gore, told CNBC via email that if the department prevails, it “will demand that Tesla advertise to consumers and better inform Tesla drivers about the capabilities of its “Autopilot” and “Full Self-Driving” features, including warnings regarding the limitations of the features, and for other actions that may be appropriate given the violations.”
Gore noted that this promotion only affects Tesla’s marketing and advertising practices around Autopilot and FSD. The California DMV conducts a separate safety assessment of “the intended design and technological capabilities of Tesla vehicles” to determine whether they can be used on public roads without a special permit.
The DMV, Gore said, wants to prevent driver misunderstandings and misuse of new vehicle technologies.
The Los Angeles Times previously reported on the DMV’s filings with the governing body.
Tesla has fifteen days to respond to the allegations before the administrative court, otherwise the RDW will make a default decision.
Tesla is including its Autopilot driver assistance features on all of its newly produced cars and sells a premium FSD (or Full Self Driving) option for $12,000 upfront or on a subscription basis for $199 per month. Sometimes the company sells an Enhanced Autopilot option with some of the premium features included.
Elon Musk’s electric vehicle manufacturer also allows drivers to test unfinished driver assistance functions on public roads in the US through a program called FSD Beta (or Full Self Driving Beta).
Only Tesla owners who have installed the company’s premium FSD system can participate in FSD Beta. Owners must achieve a high driver safety score, as determined by Tesla software that monitors their driving, and then maintain this score to continue using FSD Beta. The company said it has rolled out FSD Beta access to more than 100,000 drivers, most of them in the US
Automakers, including Tesla, are now required to report significant collisions involving advanced driver assistance systems to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
According to federal figures released in early July, Tesla vehicles accounted for about 70%, or more than 270, of the reported crashes involving these systems between June 2021 and July 2022. The data is not intended to indicate which systems of car manufacturers are safest.
NHTSA has also launched at least 37 special crash investigations into collisions involving Tesla vehicles that the company’s driver assistance systems were thought to be a factor in. At least 17 fatalities resulted from those collisions that inspired NHTSA special crash investigations.
NHTSA has also opened an evaluation of Tesla’s Autopilot technology to confirm whether it is defective and should be recalled, following a series of crashes in which Tesla vehicles hit emergency vehicles that were stationary.
Read the California DMV’s formal allegations against Tesla here and here.