With self-driving advertising issues, critical viral videos on Twitter, and Mercedes winning the race to SAE Level 3 in the US, these are testing times for Tesla.
In January, the respected Barron’s website noted that: “Tesla’s brand is the most valuable among the world’s auto makers, but it could be stronger. Tesla investors, along with Wall Street, are worried that CEO Elon Musk’s ownership of Twitter is hurting Tesla’s brand image.”
That was before the Dawn Project’s advert during the Super Bowl savaging Tesla’s Full Self-Driving and calling on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to ban it.
Just before Christmas, legislators in California had already clamped down on the terminology permissible in self-driving advertising and marketing.
The new law’s sponsor, Senator Lena Gonzalez, said: “[Senate Bill 1398] increases consumer safety by requiring dealers and manufacturers that sell new passenger vehicles equipped with a semiautonomous driving assistance feature… to give a clear description of the functions and limitations of those features.”
This has been coming for a while. Back in May last year we noted “It’s a shame, given everything Elon Musk has done for electric cars, that so many hyperbolic headlines are caused by its confusingly-named Full Self-Driving (FSD) package”
Then there was the Tesla which stopped abruptly in the Bay Bridge tunnel in San Francisco, reportedly with Full Self-Driving Beta active, which caused a multi-vehicle pileup.
Journalist Ken Klippenstein detailed the incident in The Intercept and helpfully posted the surveillance footage to Twitter, garnering 40m views.
More recently – and thanks to AV safety expert Philip Koopman on Linkedin for alerting us to this one – actor James Urbaniak tweeted video of a Tesla he’d borrowed confusing a train with a succession of trucks. This also went viral and currently has over 10m views.
“Just because an autonomous vehicle passes a test doesn’t mean it actually understood the situation,” said Koopman. “Does the vehicle know it is stopped for a grade crossing instead of a traffic light? Or does the driving software know what is going on and it is just a lame user interface? Hard to tell. But to the extent the user interface is there for the driver to ensure the vehicle is operating properly (a claim I have heard made) then this is problematic.”
If that weren’t enough, in October we posited that “with EV no longer a USP, ADAS is the new battleground”. Well, if so, Mercedes struck a significant blow in January by announcing that its Drive Pilot had become the first SAE Level 3 system in a standard production vehicle to be authorised for use on US public freeways. Many had expected Tesla to get there first.
“Complying with the requirements of Nevada Chapter 482A for Autonomous Vehicles, Drive Pilot will allow the driver to hand over the dynamic driving task to the vehicle under certain conditions. Drive Pilot will be available in the US market as an option for model year 2024 Mercedes-Benz S-Class and EQS Sedan models, with the first cars delivered to customers in the second half of 2023,” read the Mercedes statement.
“Certification in Nevada marks the start of its international rollout and, with it, the dawning of a new era,” said Mercedes-Benz CTO Markus Schäfer.
Tesla has enjoyed success after success in recent years, tearing up the carmaker’s rulebook, but other VMs have been quietly making up ground. The new champ is about to be tested and the battle promises to be epic.