Technology · August 6, 2022

California DMV Says Tesla FSD, Autopilot Marketing Misleading

Brand new Tesla cars stand in a parking lot at a Tesla showroom on June 27, 2022 in Corte Madera, California.

Justin Sullivan | News from Getty Images | Getty Images

The California Department of Motor Vehicles has accused Tesla of using fraudulent practices in marketing its driver-assistance systems, known in the US as Autopilot and Full Self-Driving, according to a filing with a state administrative agency.

Elon Musk’s electric car business risks more than its reputation — at worst, the company could temporarily lose the licenses that allow it to operate as a vehicle manufacturer and car dealer in California.

In two July 28 filings with the California Bureau of Administrative Hearings, an official and attorneys for the DMV wrote:

“Rather than simply identifying product or brand names, these ‘Autopilot’ and ‘Full Self-Driving Capability’ labels and descriptions represent vehicles equipped with the ADAS capabilities operating as autonomous vehicles, vehicles that are equipped with these ADAS capabilities but could not at the time of this advertisement and are not now able to operate as autonomous vehicles.

California DMV Assistant Director for the Office of Public Affairs Anita Gore told CNBC via email that if the department prevails, “will demand that Tesla be required to advertise to consumers and Tesla- better educate drivers about his company’s capabilities.” Autopilot’ and ‘Full Self-Driving’ capabilities, including warnings regarding feature limitations and other actions as appropriate given the violations.”

Gore noted that this action only affects Tesla’s marketing and promotional practices surrounding Autopilot and FSD. California’s DMV is conducting a separate safety review “of the intended design and technological capabilities of Tesla vehicles” to determine whether they can be used on public roads without a special permit.

The DMV, Gore said, wants to prevent misunderstandings and driver abuse of new vehicle technologies.

The Los Angeles Times previously reported on the DMV’s filings with the Administrative Authority.

Tesla has fifteen days to comment on the allegations before the administrative court, otherwise the DMV will issue an injunction.

Tesla builds its Autopilot driver assistance features into all new cars it makes and sells a premium FSD (or Full Self Driving) option for $12,000 upfront or on a subscription basis for $199 a month. Sometimes the company sells an advanced autopilot option with a portion of the premium features.

Elon Musk’s electric vehicle maker is also allowing drivers to test unfinished driver-assistance features on public roads across the US through a program called FSD Beta (or Full Self Driving Beta).

Only Tesla owners who have installed the company’s premium FSD system can participate in FSD Beta. Owners must achieve and then maintain a high driver safety rating, determined by the Tesla software that monitors their driving, to continue using FSD Beta. The company said it has already rolled out FSD beta access to more than 100,000 drivers, mostly in the US

Automakers, including Tesla, are now required to report serious collisions with advanced driver assistance systems to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Tesla vehicles accounted for about 70%, or more than 270, of reported accidents involving those systems between June 2021 and July 2022, according to federal figures released in early July. The data is not intended to indicate which automaker’s systems may be the safest.

NHTSA has also opened at least 37 special accident investigations into collisions involving Tesla vehicles in which the company’s driver-assistance systems were believed to be a factor. At least 17 deaths resulted from those collisions, which inspired NHTSA’s special accident investigations.

The NHTSA has also initiated an evaluation of Tesla’s Autopilot technology to confirm whether it is defective and needs to be recalled after Tesla vehicles collided with stationary emergency vehicles following a series of crashes.