The German publication Handelsblatt is in possession of more than 23,000 internal files and documents from Tesla after an employee leaked the data. The files include the personal information of more than 100,000 current and former employees, as well as thousands of reports of problems with Tesla’s advanced driver assistance systems, Autopilot and “Full Self-Driving.”[ads1];
The earliest complaints in the dataset go back to 2015, and the latest to March 2022. Most complaints come from the US, although European and Asian customer issues are also reflected in the data.
More than 2,400 complaints allege sudden unintended acceleration problems. Although autopilot and FSD have been the focus of the headlines in recent years, in the mid-2010s there were many reports of Teslas taking off on their own – at least 232 cases have been reported in the US, although (as often) it turns out in cases like these) the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found no evidence of a hardware or software problem, but instead blamed driver error.
More than 1,500 complaints allege problems with braking, including 139 cases of phantom braking and 383 cases of phantom stalling. In February 2022, we learned that NHTSA had opened a safety investigation into Tesla’s phantom braking problem after it received hundreds of complaints after an article in The Washington Post drew attention to the problem. But the problem has persisted, causing an eight-car crash over Thanksgiving after Tesla opened the FSD Beta program to all owners.
Handelsblatt says there were more than 1,000 crashes linked to braking problems and more than 3,000 entries where customers reported safety issues with the driver assistant.
The German publication even went to the trouble of contacting Tesla owners to confirm that the data was correct.
A doctor from California, for example, who wishes to remain anonymous, told Handelsblatt about an incident from the fall of 2021. She was about to turn in a parking lot when her Tesla suddenly accelerated like a racing car. “I tried to steer, but crashed into a cement bollard,” recalls the customer. “He fell over, but the car didn’t stop. I drove into the nearest bollard. The airbag went off and I was stunned.”
Between January and October 2021, Swiss Thomas Karl complained to Tesla about a dozen failed braking attempts with his vehicle. Karl was a regular customer, had been for ten years. But his new Model S made him nervous, as email correspondence with Tesla makes clear.
“Hello gentlemen, believe me I’m starting to lose my temper?” Karl wrote on 26 July 2021 about another incident. His Tesla had an accident on the Swiss A3 between Flums and Sargans “after being overhauled the vehicle made an emergency stop that was scared and worried”.
According to Manfred Schon, he experienced something similar on the M14 motorway. The former Bosch employee was on his way to a meeting in the US state of Michigan on June 1, 2019, when his Tesla “suddenly slammed on the brakes, as hard as you can imagine,” Schon told Handelsblatt. — I was pushed into the seat belt and the car almost stopped. Then another car hit me from behind.
The Tesla files contain similar cases in Germany. A customer complained that his Tesla had “crashed into a median barrier on the freeway”. The reason was the autopilot’s emergency braking. Another reported to customer service about his Model S: “Driving into oncoming traffic.”
Beyond the customer complaints, the data leak also shows how Tesla reacted to these problems – by committing to as little as possible in writing.
For each event there are key points for the “technical review”. The employees who enter this review into the system regularly make it clear that the report is intended for “internal use only”. Each entry also contains the notice in bold that information, if at all, can only be passed on “VERBALLY to the customer”.
“Do not copy the report below into an email, text message or leave it on a customer voicemail,” it continues. Vehicle data must also not be released without permission. If, despite the advice, “a legal commitment cannot be prevented”, this must be recorded.
Customers that Handelsblatt spoke to have the impression that Tesla employees avoid written communication. “They never sent emails, everything was always verbal,” says the doctor from California, whose Tesla said it accelerated by itself in the fall of 2021 and crashed into two concrete pillars.
As anyone who covers Tesla will be able to tell you, Handelsblatt did not get a response from the company when it asked it about the issues listed above. However, the automaker demanded the data back, according to an accompanying note from Handelsblatt’s editor.