California DMV says Tesla FSD, Autopilot marketing misleading

Brand new Tesla cars sit in a parking lot at a Tesla showroom on June 27, 2022 in Corte Madera, California.

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The California Department of Motor Vehicles has accused Tesla of engaging in deceptive practices around the marketing of its driver assistance systems, which are labeled Autopilot and Full Self Driving in the US, according to filings with a state administrative agency.

Elon Musk̵[ads1]7;s electric car business risks more than its reputation – in the worst case, the company could temporarily lose the licenses that allow it to operate as a car manufacturer and car dealer in California.

In a pair of July 28 filings with California’s Office of Administrative Hearings, an official and attorneys for the DMV wrote:

“Rather than simply identifying product or brand names, these ‘Autopilot’ and ‘Full Self-Driving Capability’ labels and descriptions represent that vehicles equipped with the ADAS features will operate as an autonomous vehicle, but vehicles equipped with these ADAS features “Could not at the time of these commercials, and cannot now, operate as autonomous vehicles.”

California DMV Deputy Director of the Office of Public Affairs Anita Gore told CNBC via email that if the department wins, it “will request that Tesla be required to advertise to consumers and better educate Tesla drivers about the capabilities of” Autopilot ‘ and ‘Full Self-Driving’ features, including warnings about the features’ limitations, and for other actions as needed given the violations.”

Gore noted that this action only applies to Tesla’s marketing and advertising practices surrounding Autopilot and FSD. The California DMV is conducting a separate safety review 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 administrative body.

Tesla has fifteen days to respond to the administrative court charges, or the DMV will make a default decision.

Tesla includes its Autopilot driver assistance features in all of its new cars, selling a premium FSD (or Full Self Driving) option for $12,000 up front 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 car maker is also letting drivers test unfinished driver assistance features on public roads in the US through a program called FSD Beta (or Full Self Driving Beta).

Only Tesla owners who have the company’s premium FSD system installed can participate in the FSD Beta. Owners must achieve a high driver safety score, as determined by the Tesla software that monitors their driving, and then maintain it to continue using FSD Beta. The company said it has already rolled out FSD Beta access to more than 100,000 drivers, most of them in the U.S.

Automakers, including Tesla, are now required to report significant crashes involving advanced driver assistance systems to The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Tesla vehicles accounted for about 70%, or more than 270, of reported crashes involving these systems between June 2021 and July 2022, according to federal figures released in early July. The data is not intended to indicate which car manufacturer’s systems may be the most secure.

NHTSA has also initiated at least 37 special crash investigations into crashes involving Tesla vehicles in which the company’s driver assistance systems were believed to be a factor. At least 17 fatalities resulted from these collisions that inspired NHTSA’s special crash investigations.

NHTSA has also opened an evaluation of Tesla’s Autopilot technology to confirm whether it is defective and needs to be recalled, following a series of collisions in which Tesla vehicles hit stationary emergency vehicles.

Read the California DMV’s formal charges against Tesla here and here.

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