Tesla threatens to sue critics for ads showing cars hitting mannequins

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – MAY 2: Elon Musk attends the 2022 Met Gala to celebrate “In America: An Anthology of Fashion” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 2, 2022 in New York City. (Photo: Theo Wargo/WireImage)

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Tesla has threatened to sue Dan O̵[ads1]7;Dowd, CEO of Green Hills Software and The Dawn Project, after he created and paid for a national TV ad campaign showing a Tesla vehicle mowing down a baby doll on an indoor test track. The ad says the vehicle had activated Tesla’s advanced driver assistance system, labeled “Full Self-Driving”.

In a cease-and-desist letter, Tesla said the inflammatory ad constituted “misinformation about Tesla,” that the “purported tests” in the ad “abuse and misrepresent the capabilities of Tesla’s technology,” and that O’Dowd’s “testing is seriously misleading and likely fraudulent.”

The Dawn Project campaign went live on August 9, according to a tweet from O’Dowd.

O’Dowd narrates the ad himself, saying in it: “Hundreds of thousands of Tesla drivers are already using Full Self-Driving on public roads. I’m Dan O’Dowd. I’m a safety engineer. And Tesla Full Self-Driving is the worst commercial software I’ve ever seen – ask Congress to shut it down.”

A spokesperson for O’Dowd told CNBC that he spent “seven figures” and the commercial was “aired on hundreds of television stations reaching over 60% of households in America.” O’Dowd told CNBC The Dawn Project is a privately held tech security and safety education business.

In its termination notice, Tesla said: “It has come to our attention that you, personally, and The Dawn Project have disparaged Tesla’s commercial interests and disseminated defamatory information to the public regarding the capabilities of Tesla’s Full Self Driving (FSD) (Beta) technology.”

Tesla then demanded that The Dawn Project remove the “Test Track” videos, issue a public retraction, disclose funding for the tests and advertising created by the Dawn Project, and say whether any regulatory agencies supported The Dawn Project’s methodology or test results. .

The Washington Post first reported on the cease and desist letter, which was also obtained by CNBC.

The Dawn Project’s ads were widely criticized. Tesla said critics the videos failed to identify serious safety issues with Tesla’s driver assistance systems, while Tesla fans said the test driver appeared to abuse the system to ensure it would collide with the child mannequin.

After the TV commercial aired, some Tesla fans and shareholders developed their own FSD Beta safety tests to prove that the cars would avoid hitting children. They enlisted their own children in these demonstrations and posted videos on YouTube, which later determined that the videos violated their “harmful content” policy and removed them.

On Wednesday, Musk said in a tweet“Early beta has many known issues. The reason we’re releasing it to a limited number of cars is to detect unknown issues.”

On Thursday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted that O’Dowd is “batsh–crazy,” using emojis to convey the insult.

Speaking to CNBC on Thursday, O’Dowd said, “I don’t care what he calls me. When is he going to acknowledge and fix the flaws that are in their system? These problems have been demonstrated. What he should do now is disable FSD .”

Tesla markets its driver assistance systems in the US in tiers.

Autopilot is the standard offering delivered in all new Tesla cars. Tesla sells a premium option called Full Self-Driving (or FSD) for $12,000 up front or $199 per month. The price for the FSD is set to increase to $15,000 in September.

The automaker gives some drivers access to a program called Full Self-Driving Beta if they achieve a high score on the company’s in-vehicle test. None of these systems make Tesla cars autonomous, or safe to use without a driver behind the wheel, ready to brake and aware of the road at all times. Tesla’s user manuals warn drivers that the systems do not make their cars self-driving.

The California DMV has alleged that Tesla engages in false advertising regarding its driver assistance systems.

The federal vehicle safety regulator, NHTSA, has several investigations underway to evaluate the safety of Tesla’s driver assistance systems from Autopilot to FSD and FSD Beta.

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