The California Department of Motor Vehicles has accused Tesla of false advertising in promoting its “full self-driving” and “Autopilot” features for cars.
On the Tesla website, the manufacturer claims that Autopilot “is designed to be able to conduct short and long distance trips with no action required by the person in the driver’s seat … All you will need to do is get in and tell your car where to go.”
The promotional copy implies that the vehicles are fully autonomous, a claim that the California DMV disputes.
In two complaints filed to the state Office of Administrative Hearings, the California DMV said of such claims that “Vehicles equipped with those ADAS features could not at the time of those advertisements, and cannot now, operate as autonomous vehicles.”
If the two DMV complaints filed July 28 are upheld in court, the penalties to Tesla could be as severe as being unable to manufacture cars in California or sell them as a dealer in the state.
“Tesla will be required to advertise to consumers and better educate Tesla drivers about the capabilities of its ‘Autopilot’ and ‘Full Self-Driving’ features, including cautionary warnings regarding the limitations of the features,” a DMV spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times.
The DMV also asserted, according to the Times report, that a disclaimer elsewhere on the site that Tesla cars still require driver supervision “contradicts the original untrue or misleading labels and claims, which is misleading, and does not cure the violation.”
To escape the new legal scrutiny, changes may be coming to Tesla’s advertising verbiage, and even product names.
“Full self-driving describes a system that is used by a driver. That’s making me dizzy. How can a driver use a full self-driving system,” autonomous car researcher and University of South Carolina professor Bryant Walker Smith told CNN Business.
California’s decision also could have national ramifications.
“Once you talk about one state investigating, you could talk about 50 states potentially investigating. They’re not putting their necks out,” Mr. Smith told CNN Business.