The California attorney general’s office has launched an investigation into Tesla, prompted by customer complaints and former employees regarding Autopilot safety issues and alleged false advertising.
Among the complaints is the occurrence of “phantom braking,” an abrupt automatic braking feature experienced by Tesla owners while using the company’s driver assistance systems, particularly Autopilot, on highways.
The investigation also involves scrutiny over Tesla’s marketing of its Full Self Driving (FSD) option, which has not yet delivered on its promise of fully autonomous vehicles.
Customer Complaints and Regulatory Involvement:
Greg Wester, a Tesla Model 3 owner, filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2022, expressing concerns about phantom braking and feeling misled after purchasing the FSD option.
An analyst from the California attorney general’s office later reached out to Wester for an interview regarding the complaint. Similar outreach was made to another former Tesla employee whose family owned a Model 3 with the FSD option.
Tesla’s Autopilot and FSD Features:
Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, has frequently promised the addition of new features and functionalities via over-the-air software updates, eventually leading to self-driving or autonomous capabilities. However, to date, Tesla’s vehicles are classified as “level 2” systems, requiring an attentive driver behind the wheel, ready to take control at any time.
Deceptive Practices Allegations and Request for Refunds:
Customers like Wester argue that Tesla should provide the option for a full refund of Autopilot features if customers are dissatisfied with the product. They claim that despite purchasing the FSD option, they only received a driver monitoring product with partial autonomy.
The California Department of Motor Vehicles has also been investigating Tesla’s driver assistance systems, accusing the company of deceptive practices in marketing Autopilot and FSD technology.
Tesla’s Response and Potential Impact: Tesla, in its second-quarter financial filing, acknowledged receiving requests for information from various regulators and government authorities, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Department of Justice.
However, the company did not previously disclose the investigation by the California attorney general’s office. Tesla expressed concern over the possibility of a material adverse impact on its business if the government decides to pursue an enforcement action.
Conclusion: The investigation by the California attorney general’s office has added further scrutiny to Tesla’s Autopilot safety features and the marketing of its FSD option.
With ongoing regulatory inquiries, Tesla faces challenges in meeting customer expectations and addressing concerns related to its driver assistance systems. The outcome of this investigation could potentially have significant implications for the company’s operations and reputation.