Documents Reveal Tesla Admits FSD Not Autonomous, To “Remain Largely Unchanged”

Documents obtained under a Freedom of Information request disclosing email exchanges between Tesla (Nasdaq: TSLA) and the California Department of Motor Vehicles show that the automaker said it expects full self-driving (FSD) functionality to “remain largely unchanged in a future, full release to the customer fleet.”

“We are analyzing the data obtained in the pilot and using it to refine the feature’s operation and customer experience,” said Tesla in a December 2020 letter undersigned by Associate General Counsel Eric Williams addressing California DMV’s Chief of Autonomous Vehicles Branch Miguel Acosta. “That said, we do not expect significant enhancements in OEDR or other changes to the feature that would shift the responsibility for the entire DDT to the system. As such, a final release of City Streets will continue to be an SAE Level 2, advanced driver-assistance feature.”

The so-called FSD City Streets was Tesla’s program to test its vehicle driving functionality in the streets of California with non-employees. At the time, the automaker just added 88 additional participants to the pilot release, 25 of whom were non-employees.

“In advance of the software update, we phoned each non-employee participant, walked them through the behaviors they should expect to see, and confirmed that they understood their responsibilities as the driver,” the letter said. “In the email, non-employee phone discussions, and employee sessions, we made abundantly clear that City Streets does not make the vehicle autonomous and that the driver is responsible for being fully attentive at all times.”

In an earlier letter in November 2020, Tesla also clarified that the “City Streets continues to firmly root the vehicle in SAE Level 2 capability and does not make it autonomous under the DMV’s definition.”

In a follow up letter to the DMV also sent in December 2020, Tesla reiterated this by saying that “neither Autopilot nor FSD Capability is an autonomous system, and currently no comprising feature, whether singularly or collectively, is autonomous or makes our vehicles autonomous,” which includes the City Streets program.

Hence, in Tesla’s Autonomous Mode Disengagements for Reporting Year 2020, it reported no disengagements because it “did not test any vehicles on public roads in California in autonomous mode or operate any AVs, as defined by California law,” despite the City Streets program.

Last March, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg hit Tesla over its Autopilot feature, saying “I wouldn’t call something ‘Autopilot’ if the manual explicitly says that you have to have your hands on the wheel and the eyes on the road all the time.”

“That’s not saying anything about the NHTSA scope of investigation, I’m just saying at a common sense level. I think that’s a concern,” Buttigieg said.

Buttigieg was referring to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an agency under DOT, and its investigation into how the feature figures into road collisions and some sudden-breaking incidents. The Justice Department has also started a probe into whether the carmaker made misleading statements about what the driver assistance system can actually do.

A California bill filed back in September 2022 also targeted Tesla’s FSD program, addressing the issue of the electric vehicle maker marketing the vehicle as “full self-driving,” implying in plain English that the car can be completely autonomous, when it can not.

Nevertheless, in the same December 2020 letter to the DMV, Tesla said that “development of true autonomous features (SAE Levels 3+) will follow [its] iterative process (development, validation, early release, etc.)”

“Any such features will not be released to the general public until we have fully validated them and received any required regulatory permits or approvals,” the company said.

A research paper by proponents from Delft University of Technology highlighted the growing complacency and unideal behavior being encouraged by Tesla’s standard Autopilot and FSD Beta program.

Following the recent surprising Tesla recall for their FSD vehicles, it appears the electric vehicle giant did not disclose the NHTSA requests for a recall in its most recent earnings. Instead, the firm announced some more than $1 billion in deferred revenue from FSD in its latest release.

In a recent tweet, CEO Elon Musk also said that the latest FSD update pushed Tesla vehicles equipped with the program to be now actively driving approximately 1 million miles per day across the fleet.

Tesla last traded at $185.06 on the Nasdaq.

Information for this briefing was found via the sources mentioned. The author has no securities or affiliations related to the organizations discussed. Not a recommendation to buy or sell. Always do additional research and consult a professional before purchasing a security. The author holds no licenses.

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