California DMV accuses Tesla of false promoting

The California Department of Motor Vehicles has accused Tesla of false advertising while promoting the company’s signature Autopilot and Full Self-Driving technologies.

The agency alleges that the electric car maker misled customers with advertising language on its website describing Autopilot and Full Self-Driving technologies as more capable than they actually are.

“The company made or disseminated statements that are false or misleading, and not based on facts,” the DMV said in a pair of complaints filed with the state’s Office of Administrative Hearings on July 28.

The DMV complaints show the names of the technologies, as well as other “misleading” language such as the following, which apparently on the Autopilot page of the Tesla website:

“You just 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 your destination. Your Tesla will discover the best route, navigating urban streets, complex intersections and freeways.”

The remedies proposed by the DMV if it prevails could be severe, including revoking the company’s licenses to make or sell its cars in California. But actual remedies would probably be much milder.

A DMV spokesman said Friday via email that if his action is successful, “the DMV will request that Tesla advertise to consumers and better educate Tesla drivers about the capabilities of its ‘Autopilot’ and ‘Full Self-Driving’, including cautionary warnings regarding feature limitations, and other actions as appropriate in light of violations.”

In June, Tesla CEO Elon Musk emphasized the importance of Full Self-Driving for the company. Without it, Tesla is “even essentially zero,” he said.

The Full Self-Driving feature costs $12,000 and is intended to automatically pilot the car on highways, city streets and neighborhood roads; obey traffic signals automatically; and wandering into a driverless car park to park itself.

Despite the name, there is no car available for purchase by individuals capable of fully autonomous driving from Tesla or any other company.

Tesla cars could not, “and cannot now, operate as autonomous vehicles,” the DMV says.

The DMV notes that Tesla’s website states that “the currently enabled features require active driver supervision and do not render the vehicle autonomous.”

But, the DMV said, the disclaimer is “contrary to the original false or misleading labels and claims, which are misleading, and do not cure the violation.”

Tesla’s driver assist technologies that help the automaker stand out in an increasingly crowded electric vehicle market have been popular. But YouTube videos showing its systems putting cars in dangerous situations, including near-head-on collisions with trucks and trains that require the driver to yank the steering wheel to avoid a crash, have drawn attention. One video appears to show Tesla’s detection system mistaking the moon for a traffic light stuck on yellow.

Autopilot, a cheaper feature that combines automatic cruise control with automatic steering and automatic lane changes, came under investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration when Teslas showed a pattern of plowing into emergency vehicles parked on the side of the road.

It is unclear how many crashes involve Total Self-Driving technology, and whether any of those crashes resulted in death or injury. Tesla’s onboard computers are able to communicate that information over the air to Tesla, but the company does not share that data with the public.

Recently, Musk has claimed that Full Self-Driving has not been a factor in any Tesla crash, even though Tesla owners have submitted at least eight crash reports to federal safety regulators indicate otherwise.

Tesla’s response to the DMV complaints, if any, is not yet publicly available. Tesla has no media relations office. Musk did not respond to an invitation to tell Tesla’s side of the story.

Sen. Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach), who chairs the Transportation Committee, called the DMV’s allegations against Tesla “very troubling.”

“It is extremely important that the limitations of technology are presented in the most understandable way to protect the safety of the public on our roads across California,” she said.

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