It Seems That the Bloom Is off the Rose
One of the assets that Elon Musk has generally, and Tesla Motors has in particular, has been the willingness of the public, and regulators, to overlook the constant dissembling (lying) of Elon Musk about things like delivery schedules, price, capabilities, and the existence of his products, because he was seen as a visionary man of singular genius.
Some of these are merely annoying, (Tesla’s poor build quality) some probably constitute securities fraud (demonstrating non-existent solar shingles), and some kill people, like Tesla’s Autopilot and related self-driving features.
In the space of 3½ months, his behavior has led people to realize that they are not dealing with an, “Eccentric genius billionaire,” but rather an, “Actually dangerously delusional rich guy,”
All of this wthout his even pausing at, “Donning a superhero costume and perusing criminals at night,” which is a bit of a bummer, because I was hoping that he would be inspired by his first college mascot, and we would see him in an Oom Gert suit.
More significant than seeing an electric version version of the Batmobile, is the fact that regulators are no longer blithely tolerating his deceptive business practices.
Case in point, after nearly a decade of lying about the capabilities and schedule of its self driving technology, the California Department of Motor Vehicles has filed complaints against Tesla and its dealer network for false adverting.
This should have happened years ago:
The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) last month filed two complaints against Tesla alleging that the car marker violated state law by misrepresenting that its vehicles can drive autonomously.
The complaints [1, 2] [PDF] were filed with the Golden State’ Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) and allege that the company violated its manufacturer and dealer Occupational Licenses.
At least five times between May 28 and July 12 last year, the complaints assert, Tesla made misleading statements about its advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) using terms like “Autopilot” and “Full Self-Driving Capability,” in conjunction with claims that the system can navigate to a destination “with no action required by the person in the driver’s seat.”
“Instead of 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 those ADAS features could not at the time of those advertisements, and cannot now, operate as autonomous vehicles,” the complaints say.
Tesla has until the end of this week to respond by filing a Notice of Defense if the company wishes to challenge the accusations. Otherwise, the matter will be resolved by a default decision.
If Tesla chooses to respond, there will be discovery and response filings, leading to a hearing before an OAH administrative law judge. And if Tesla dislikes the result, it has the option to file an appeal in Superior Court.
In June, the US National Transportation and Highway Safety Administration expanded its investigation of Tesla’s ADAS to an engineering analysis amid a broader inquiry into a dozen other automakers’ ADAS systems that began last year.
Oh, did I forget to mention that the Feds are looking into this bit of humbug as well? (Nope, mentioned this 2 months ago, but then it was just the NTSB, which only gathers information, and now it is the NHTSA, which can issue regulations and assess penalties.)
Tesla dominates the numbers in driver assist involved crashes, even though they are a small fraction of the cars with advanced driver assistance programs.
As to whether this is an issue of their technology, Tesla has never used Lidar, and has now eschewed radar, or as a result of their overselling their capabilities, I’ll leave it to the regulators.
In the interest of completeness though, it should be noted that Tesla appears to be engaging in deceptive practices to minimize the number of reported accidents:
The supposed absence of accidents during ADAS usage may be the result of intentional disengagement — automated systems disabling themselves moments before impact. NHTSA is looking into 16 accidents involving Autopilot in which Tesla vehicles struck parked emergency vehicles. In its report [PDF], the NHTSA said, “On average in these crashes, Autopilot aborted vehicle control less than one second prior to the first impact. “
This is not just fraud, it is murderous fraud, and applying the criminal justice to Tesla managers, including Musk, who have promulgated this should happen sooner rather than later.