Weekly Brief: Tesla Claims Deflate Again while Drivers Demand Safety

All eyes were supposed to be on Texas last week as Tesla held its annual Cyber Roundup for shareholders at its Giga Texas plant.

At the meeting, Elon Musk announced that Tesla has officially moved its headquarters from Fremont, California, to Austin, Texas. Musk has been at war with California for years now (more on that below). Tack on Texas’s glut of affordable housing and friendly tax codes and Musk said the decision was an easy one. He also used the Roundup to announce that the all-electric Cybertruck will soon go into production and is on schedule for release in mid-2023, this after promising the truck would debut in 2021, then early 2022, then late 2022, now 2023.

So don’t hold your breath. The Cybertruck, upon its unveiling in 2019, was one of the most polarizing automotive designs ever, eliciting both praise as the future of automotive design and mockery as a vehicle better fit for lunar exploration than driving on Planet Earth. The one thing that most could agree on was that the entry-level price of $39,000 would up-end the pickup truck market. “I hate to give sort of a little bit of bad news,” Musk told shareholders last week. “But I think there’s no way to, sort of, anticipate the inflation that we’ve seen and the various issues. But what I can say is that the Cybertruck will be one helluva product. It’s going to be like a damn fine machine.” Very reassuring.

Unfortunately for Musk, that little bit of bad news about an impending price hike for the Cybertruck was trumped by a big bit of bad news out of California, where the Department of Motor Vehicles filed a complaint alleging that Tesla has falsely advertised its Autopilot and “Full Self Driving” technologies as just that – fully self-driving, which they plainly are not. Musk knows this, says the DMV. He also knows that Tesla without the promise of self-driving technology is, in his own words, “worth basically zero”. So, he and Tesla arguably keep on making false promises.

For example, Tesla’s current website advertises Autopilot in the following language per the DMV’s complaint: “All you will need to do is 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 the assumed destination. Your Tesla will figure out the optimal route, navigating urban streets, complex intersections and freeways.”

None of this is true because Autopilot isn’t currently advanced enough to make it happen. Tesla admits this in a disclaimer on its current website, which according to the DMV only serves to make the advertising more confusing, problematic and dangerous. If the complaint proves successful, California could revoke Tesla’s license to sell new vehicles in California. More likely, the result would be fewer bold declarations about Autopilot and more mandatory education and explicit cautionary warnings for customers.

In other news last week, one of Autopilot’s biggest rivals, General Motor’s Super Cruise, will soon double its coverage and be available on 400,000 miles of highways in the US and Canada. The expanded coverage will come automatically loaded on all new vehicles with Super Cruise starting in the fourth quarter of 2022 and will be available to current customers who use Super Cruise via an over-the-air update.

Unlike Autopilot, Super Cruise relies on pre-mapped routes that have been added into Super Cruise’s database mile by mile by software engineers. Autopilot by contrast relies on on-board cameras and sensors that work to identify obstacles, surrounding traffic and road signs in real time. Autopilot, therefore, can work (in theory) everywhere, whereas Super Cruise is limited to those stretches of highways that have been entered into the system. Hence the reason doubling the coverage area in North America is significant.

Whether drivers actually care about any of this is unclear. The American Automobile Association recently surveyed its 62 million members to discover that a measly 18% care about the idea of a fully self-driving car. Nearly 80% want the focus to be on improving automotive safety instead. As automakers pour billions into trying to create an edge over their competitors by way of autonomous tech, it might serve them well to listen to what drivers actually want, even if they don’t like what they hear.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *