It’s long been said the most dangerous person in the word is a bureaucrat with a rulebook, something that Tesla CEO Elon Musk frequently encounters.
Tesla was accused of fraudulent advertising on Friday by the California Department of Motor Vehicles over its marketing of the brand-name Autopilot and Full Self-Driving technologies. The company’s promotional language on its website overstated the capabilities of Autopilot and Full Self-Driving technology, according to the agency.
The DMV complaint made with California’s Office of Administrative Hearings contends Tesla “made or disseminated statements that are untrue or misleading, and not based on facts, in advertising vehicles as equipped, or potentially equipped, with advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) features.”
The phrases that rankle the DMV
In particular, California regulators take issue with the phrase, “The system is designed to be able to conduct short and long-distance trips with no action required by the person in the driver’s seat.”
The state agency also finds Tesla’s claims misleading, notably the one that says, “From Home — All you will need to do is get in and tell your car where to go. If you don’t say anything, your car will look at your calendar and take you there as the assumed destination. Your Tesla will figure out the optimal route, navigating urban streets, complex intersections and freeways. To your Destination – When you arrive at your destination, simply step out at the entrance and your car will enter park seek mode, automatically search for a spot and park itself. A tap on your phone summons it back to you.”
The DMV finds that the names “Autopilot” and “Full Self-Driving Capability” and their descriptions denote that, “will operate as an autonomous vehicle, but vehicles equipped with those ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) features could not at the time of those advertisements, and cannot now, operate as autonomous vehicles.”
Despite Tesla’s contradictory disclaimers, including one that states that the features “require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous,” the state still finds the original statements untrue or misleading and says the disclaimer does not cure the violation.
What could happen next
The California DMV’s remedies could include revoking license to manufacture or sell cars in California, reimburse those who have bought Teslas with the ADAS features, or “any other and further action as it may deem just and proper.”
The administrative court has given Tesla 15 days to respond to the charges; if it does not, the DMV will make a default determination.
A DMV spokesperson said Friday in an email to the Los Angeles Times, “the DMV will ask that Tesla will be required to advertise to consumers and better educate Tesla drivers about the capabilities of its ‘Autopilot’ and ‘Full Self-Driving’ features, including cautionary warnings regarding the limitations of the features, and for other actions as appropriate given the violations.”
The feds are watching
Automakers are obligated to notify the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of significant collisions involving advanced driver-assist systems. But approximately 70% of the more than 270 documented crashes employing ADAS systems over the past 11 months involve Teslas. Additionally, NHTSA has opened 37 crash investigations into collisions involving Tesla’s driver assistance systems. And, NHTSA is also examining whether Tesla’s Autopilot technology is flawed and has to be recalled.
Last year, Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal and Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey petitioned the Federal Trade Commission to launch an investigation into possible misleading marketing tactics Tesla may have used to promote its driver-assistance technology.
All Teslas now come with Autopilot, with FSD (or Full Self Driving) available as a $12,000 option, or as a $199 monthly subscription. More than 100,000 vehicles are now equipped with FSD.
The DMV complaint against Tesla was first reported by the Los Angeles Times.