Tesla has been dominating the spotlight this week, albeit not in a positive way. The electric car maker has been the subject of increased scrutiny and threats of regulatory probes, after a Model S was involved in a crash that killed two occupants. Then, in a further blow, Consumer Reports published a bombshell analysis that showed Teslas can in fact, drive themselves with no one present.
On Friday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told reporters that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), alongside the police, are still in the midst of “gathering facts and information” about last week’s fatal wreck involving a Tesla Model S. One of the focal debates surrounding the crash has been whether or not the vehicle was in an automatic driving mode given the victim’s seating at the time of the accident— one which was seated in the passenger seat and the other in the passenger side in the back of the car.
Following the crash, Tesla CEO Elon Musk quickly took to twitter to say that “data logs recovered so far show Autopilot was not enabled.” However, as Reuters reports, Harris County Constable Precinct 4 Mark Herman remained skeptical, noting that police have yet to serve Tesla search warrants to gain access to the data from the crash. “If he is tweeting that out, if he has already pulled the data, he hasn’t told us that.” Herman continued, “we have witness statements from people that said they left to test drive the vehicle without a driver and to show the friend how it can drive itself.”
The fatal Model S crash also caught the attention of several US senators, who have sent letters to the NHTSA. As Bloomberg reports, Democratic senators Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut have raised concerns regarding Tesla’s string of mishaps. “The most recent Tesla crash is the latest in a rash of accidents — the 28th — that NHTSA is investigating involving a Tesla car,” they wrote. “We fear safety concerns involving these vehicles are becoming a pattern, which is incredibly worrisome and deserves your undivided attention.”
To make matters even worse for Tesla, that same day, engineers at Consumer Reports published a bombshell report that appears to independently corroborate that Teslas can in fact, drive themselves without anyone seated behind the wheel. In a test conducted last week, engineers were able to easily trick a Tesla Model Y to drive via the Autopilot feature while the driver’s seat remained empty, steering itself alongside the road’s painted lines.
However, what was really worrisome, was that the researchers simulated the weight of a driver’s hand by placing a small weighted chain across the steering wheel and keeping the seatbelt buckled in order to enable the Autopilot feature. “In our evaluation, the system not only failed to make sure the driver was paying attention, but it also couldn’t tell if there was a driver there at all,” said Consumer Reports’ senior director of auto testing Jake Fisher, noting he was able to accelerate the car by reach over to the driver’s seat to adjust a dial on the steering wheel.
Aside from the fatal crash and worrisome Consumer Reports revelations, Tesla continues to face mounting pressure in China, as regulators have been increasingly criticizing the EV maker over safety concerns. On Monday, a Tesla customer gained significant media attention, after she stood atop one of the company’s vehicles at a Shanghai auto show wearing a shirt that read “brakes don’t work.” She made the daring move in protest to an alleged brake failure in her car— a similar issue that a number of other Chinese customers have also reported.
The Tesla owner’s outburst caught the attention of Chinese media and government agencies. One particular state-run news outlet, Global Times, warned Tesla to respect China’s vehicle consumer market, according to a translation published by CNBC. “The arrogant and overbearing stance the company exhibited in front of the public is repugnant and unacceptable, which could inflict serious damage on its reputation and customer base in the Chinese market.”
Information for this briefing was found via Reuters, Bloomberg, and Consumer Reports. The author has no securities or affiliations related to this organization. Not a recommendation to buy or sell. Always do additional research and consult a professional before purchasing a security. The author holds no licenses.