Consumer groups ask FTC to investigate “deceptive” Tesla Autopilot marketing

Media Darling Elon Musk's electric car company, Tesla is criticized for allegedly misleading the consumer as to the effectiveness of its autopilot system.

Responsible parties: A pair of Consumer Advocacy Groups, the Automotive Safety Center and Consumer Watchdog, today sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission to investigate "dangerously misleading and misleading advertising and marketing practices and representations made by Tesla Motors, Inc. regarding the safety and capabilities of its autopilot function."

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In the letter, the groups state:

Consumers on the market for a new Tesla see advertisements proclaiming "Full Self-Driving Hardware on All Cars". They are directed to videos of Tesla vehicles traveling on busy public roads without any human intervention. They see press releases alleging that Autopilot reduces the likelihood of an accident by 40%. They also hear statements like "the likelihood of an accident with Autopilot is just less" Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Or they intend to connect the autopilot in a Tesla to autopilot systems in an airplane. Such advertisements and statements mislead and deceive consumers into believing that the autopilot is safer and more effective than we know.

Here's why: Tesla's Autopilot feature is amazing, but it does not make the car unmanned. Some people have died in accidents occurred while the driver assistance function was engaged and there is an argument to the effect that part of the problem is that consumers have an exaggerated perception what the autopilot is capable of.

After Reuters a spokesman for Tesla said:

The feedback we receive from our customers shows that they understand very well what is the Autopilot, how to use it correctly and what characteristics it is composed of.

But many experts believe that this is not good enough. Judging by the fact that in at least two accidents involving Teslas with Autopilot engaged, drivers were known to have ignored the safety warnings, it is safe to say that Tesla needs a best return.

According to the letter of the monitoring groups:

Tesla is the only automaker to market its level 2 vehicles in "self-driving", and the name of its suite of driver assistance features, Autopilot, connotes total autonomy. In addition to these formal marketing and advertising ploys, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, frequently cheats and misleads consumers about the safety and capabilities of the autopilot.

For reference, vehicle autonomy is rated in levels one to five, with a car that still requires a driver and five being a car that can drive autonomously without a network connection or human in the vehicle. A two, on this scale, is a car that, although having a partial autonomy (can maintain speed and self-brake, for example), still requires that a human be behind the flying and be careful.

The Tesla autopilot system only brings its vehicles to a level 2, not higher.

Bottom line: Either Tesla believes that human lives are acceptable losses, or he should consider changing the name of the Autopilot driver's helper function to something that does not imply that his vehicles are driverless. Because they are not.

Read more: Dear Elon Musk: Stop spreading false news.

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