Consumer groups file ‘deceptive practices’ complaint against Tesla

Two consumer groups have filed a complaint, asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Tesla Motors, specifically over its Autopilot brand name for a feature that aids drivers.

Autopilot is not a self-driving system. While drivers can remove their hands from the steering wheel for a limited amount of time, they remain in control of the vehicle.

The Center for Auto Safety and Consumer Watchdog claim the feature’s name amounts to “deceptive and unfair” business practices. The groups said they believe those practices are responsible for at least two deaths.

A press release from the groups said the Autopilot name misleads drivers into believing the feature is safer and more capable than it is in practice. The National Transportation Safety Board investigated a 2016 fatal crash in Florida involving a Tesla Model S using Autopilot. The NTSB found that the driver was too reliant on the Autopilot system and didn’t understand its limitations.

Telsa does not agree that consumers are misled or confused by the Autopilot feature. A company spokesperson told Car and Driver Magazine, “The feedback we get from our customers shows that they have a very clear understanding of what Autopilot is, how to properly use it, and what features it consists of.”

However, after the Florida fatal crash, Tesla made changes to the way Autopilot works shortening the time between audio and visual warnings to drivers who take their hands off the steering wheel.

“Telsa has repeatedly exaggerated the autonomous capabilities of its Autopilot technology, boosting sales at the expense of consumer safety,” said Center for Auto Safety Executive Director Jason Levine. “The FTC must step in and expose this charade before more Americans are injured or killed.”

Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy and Technology Project Director John M. Simpson added, “Starting with the very name Autopilot, Tesla has consistently and deceptively hyped its technology. Described and marketed responsibly, so drivers understood it, Tesla’s technology could enhance safety. Instead, it’s killing people.”

The groups said Tesla’s marketing and advertising of its Autopilot feature violate FTC regulations because it is likely to mislead customers into reasonably believing that their vehicles have self-driving or autonomous capabilities. They urged the FTC to conduct a timely investigation to prevent further accidents.