California regulator accuses Tesla of fake autopilot advertising

The California Department of Motor Vehicles has accused Tesla of falsely advertising its driver assistance technology in two complaints that could affect the company’s ability to sell cars in the state.

The agency said Tesla misled customers by claiming in advertisements that vehicles equipped with Autopilot and Full Self-Driving Capability were autonomous. If the agency’s complaints to the state’s Administrative Hearing Bureau resolve the issue, Tesla’s licenses to manufacture and sell California vehicles may be suspended or revoked.

Tesla “has made or disseminated statements that are untrue or misleading and not factual in advertising vehicles with or potentially equipped with advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) functionality,” the agency said in its complaints filed with on July 28.

The Los Angeles Times previously reported on agency complaints that are independent of a review of Tesla’s vehicle designs and technology capabilities.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk and a company lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday night.

In a marketing material on its website, Tesla said its driver assistance technology was able to guide journeys “without the driver having to take action”. The agency said despite Tesla’s claim that the programs “require active driver supervision,” this claim and others were false and misleading.

Available since 2015, Autopilot is a system that can independently steer, brake and accelerate the company’s cars. However, it is primarily intended for use on highways, and the company’s documentation requires drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel and take control of the car in the event of a system failure.

Its name is borrowed from aviation systems that allow airplanes to fly independently under ideal conditions with the limited participation of the pilot. In the current system, the car will turn off the autopilot if the driver does not keep his hand on the steering wheel consistently.

For the typical buyer, the additional features are minimal. When used on city streets, for example, the car will stop at a red light, but will not move on a green light unless the driver intervenes.

In May, Musk said around 100,000 Full Self-Driving buyers had access to a “beta” test version of the service, which allowed them to navigate city streets more fully – while drivers continued to keep their hands on the wheel in case something went wrong. He also said Full Self-Driving would be “complete” by the end of the year and would be available to around one million car owners.

In late 2015, when Autopilot made its debut, Musk began saying the Teslas would drive alone in two years. Over the following years, he repeatedly stated that he was only a year or two away from such a skill.

“There are so many false dawns with self-driving,” he said in May. “You think you know the problem, then – no – you just hit the ceiling.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the country’s leading car safety regulator, is examining the autopilot after learning of 35 accidents involving the system, nine of which have killed 14 people. The investigation covers 830,000 vehicles sold in the United States and will include full self-driving and autopilot.

Tesla has until next Friday to challenge or otherwise respond to allegations by the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

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