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Tesla’s claims about Autopilot and Full Self-Driving are under scrutiny as senators pressure FTC

Two senators are pressuring the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate Tesla’s claims about Autopilot and the Full Self-Driving (FSD) package.

Richard Blumenthal and Ed Markey, two senators representing the Democratic Party, have long been critical of Tesla’s Autopilot and FSD package.

They have been claiming that Autopilot caused accidents on the road, and now, they are ramping up their criticism to asking the FTC to investigate Tesla’s claims regarding those products.

The senators wrote in a letter to FTC Chair Lina Khan:

We write to express our serious concerns about Tesla’s misleading advertising of its Autopilot and Full Self-Driving (FSD) features. Tesla’s marketing has repeatedly overstated the capabilities of its vehicles, and these statements increasingly pose a threat to motorists and other users of the road. Accordingly, we urge you to open an investigation into potentially deceptive and unfair practices in Tesla’s advertising and marketing of its driving automation systems and take appropriate enforcement action to ensure the safety of all drivers on the road.

They referenced the recently announced NTHSA investigation into crashes involving Tesla vehicles on Autopilot and emergency vehicles.

The FTC can investigate false advertising, and this is basically what the senators are claiming:

“We fear that Tesla’s Autopilot and FSD features are not as mature and reliable as the company pitches to the public. On April 22, 2019, Tesla posted a video on its YouTube channel titled “Full Self-Driving” showing a Tesla driving entirely on its own.4 Tesla CEO Elon Musk has also repeatedly boasted about Tesla’s systems. In July 2020 and again in January 2021, Mr. Musk claimed to consumers that Tesla vehicles would soon reach Level 5 autonomy, or full automation. Unfortunately, Tesla’s advertising and marketing is reaching a large audience: the “Full SelfDriving” video has been viewed more than 18 million times. While Tesla has buried qualifying disclaimers elsewhere on their website, the link in the video’s caption redirects to a purchasing page that fails to provide additional information about the true capabilities of the vehicle.”

They are asking for the FTC to open a formal investigation into the issue.

Here’s the full letter:

[scribd id=520718711 key=key-u4BY3rLS4ND9dxI872hS mode=scroll]

Electerk’s Take

I think that there are certainly problems with Tesla’s approach of pre-selling the Full Self-Driving package with the main advertised feature not being available.

However, I don’t think it’s necessarily false advertising. It’s mostly just being late. Very late.

I know that Tesla detractors don’t believe that, but I don’t think that Tesla or Elon Musk is being malicious with those claims. They are just not good at sticking to the timelines.

As to whether or not the claims themselves lead to the misuse of the Autopilot and FSD features, that’s extremely hard to determine.

There is no doubt that there are misuses of Autopilot, but I think that’s mostly idiots being idiots. And that’s hard to avoid.

In terms of advertising, there’s not a lot more that Tesla could do other than changing the name of the FSD package until it can actually deliver a full self-driving system.

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