Tesla is really feeling the pressure on Autopilot from Germany. After the local media reported on excerpts of an alleged evaluation of the Tesla Autopilot by Germany’s Transport Ministry, which depicted a harsh critique of Tesla’s advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) calling it a “significant traffic hazard”, the ministry sent a letter to all Tesla owners in the country last week to give them instructions on how to use the system.

Now we learn that the Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA) is going one step further and it is now asking Tesla not to use the word ‘Autopilot’ when referring to its ADAS.

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The news follows a proposed new regulation by California’s DMV to ban the use of certain words in the promotion and advertising of advanced driver assistance systems and “autopilot” was among the words. It now makes two regulating agencies pushing for Tesla to change the name of the Autopilot in two important markets for the company.

KBA confirmed to Reuters having asked Tesla to stop using ‘Autopilot’ citing that it can be “misleading” people into thinking the car can drive itself:

“It can be confirmed that a letter to Tesla exists with the request to no longer use the misleading term Autopilot for the driver assistance system of the car,”

Tesla is still defending the use of the word ‘autopilot’ as being appropriate for its system:

“Autopilot is a suite of technologies that operate in conjunction with the human driver to make driving safer and less stressful. This is precisely how the term has been used for decades in aerospace: to denote a support system that operates under the direct supervision of a human pilot. In addition to using a common term in its proper context, we have always been clear with our customers that Autopilot is a drivers assistance system that requires the driver to pay attention at all times, similar to drivers assistance systems from other manufacturers. Just as in an airplane, when used properly, Autopilot reduces driver workload and provides an added layer of safety when compared to purely manual driving.”

As we noted when the DMV first brought up the issue, Tesla does have a point. It actually uses a lot of the same language as the FAA to talk about the systems. They both describe a system that relieves the operator of certain controls, which reduces the overall workload and allow to be more vigilant about other things. From the FAA’s autopilot regulations:

“While the autopilot relieves you from manually manipulating the flight controls, you must maintain vigilance over the system to ensure that it performs the intended functions and the aircraft remains within acceptable parameters of altitudes, airspeeds, and airspace limits.”
While the actual definition of the word seems to be on Tesla’s side, the general public perception is the issue here and it will be interesting to see what will come of it now that several agencies are pushing for the automaker to stop using the word. Who will be next? Nissan’s ‘Piloted Drive’? Mercedes ‘Drive Pilot’?

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