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This article was published on July 15, 2020

German court slams the brakes on Tesla’s bogus ‘Autopilot’ marketing

Could this be the start of something?

German court slams the brakes on Tesla’s bogus ‘Autopilot’ marketing

In what could be somewhat of a landmark case, a German court has ruled that Tesla can no longer market its Autopilot and Full Self-Driving products as autonomous systems in the country.

Judges in Munich ruled yesterday that the electric car company can no longer use phrases such as “full potential for autonomous driving” and “Autopilot inclusive” in its German advertising materials, Reuters reports.

[Read: Take a look at the officially unveiled BMW iX3]

According to the court and the Wettbewerbszentrale, the country’s anti-competitive practice regulator, the claims Tesla makes about its supposed self-driving systems amount to misleading business practices. They might even lead Tesla buyers to thinking their vehicle is far more capable than it actually is and may lead to accidents as we’ve seen in other countries.

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What’s more, Tesla’s marketing may lead consumers to think autonomous driving systems are legal on German roads. The systems are currently unregulated in the country.

The EV maker says that it has and does inform customers that Autopilot and Full Self-Driving modes are not fully autonomous systems. Even so, spend any time on Twitter and YouTube and you’ll see many Tesla fans, including Elon Musk, talk about and demonstrate the systems as if they are capable of full autonomous driving, which doesn’t exist yet.

Criticism against Tesla’s driver aid systems has been growing in recent months. Critics of Tesla’s overselling of its tech refer to the practice as ‘autonowashing.’

Liza Dixon, the human machine interaction researcher who coined the term, speaking of the German court ruling said: “It’s a necessary and long overdue ruling. Autonowashing is being recognized internationally as a disservice to consumers. It’s not just an advertising concern—this is a public safety issue.”

At its core, Tesla’s Autopilot system is a collection of technologies like lane centering, adaptive cruise control, and automatic braking. The Californian carmaker is continually adding new features, and in the past 12 months enabled its vehicles to effectively drive themselves in some urban areas.

When these driver aids are used simultaneously, it can give the impression that the vehicle is driving itself. However, the driver must always remain in control of the vehicle, have their hands on the steering wheel, and be situationally aware.

Despite this, Elon Musk has on numerous occasions demonstrated the system as being fully capable of driving itself. Recently, Musk even bragged that Tesla had “figured out” fully autonomous (Level 5) driving. Autopilot and Full Self-Driving are regarded as advanced driver assistance systems which are Level 2 systems, a long way from being fully autonomous.

Autopilot, musk, hands off, car, self-driving
Credit: Dixon - Transportation Research
Elon Musk is no stranger to demonstrating Autopilot as capable of driving itself entirely. Even though Musk takes his hands off the wheel here, it is wrong and against Tesla’s user agreement for its drivers to do the same. Musk’s action set a misleading expectation of what Tesla vehicles are capable of.

No one at Tesla was available to comment on the German court’s ruling, however the company will be able to appeal the case — bet your ass that it will too.

For Tesla to roll over and concede in Germany could pave the way for other nations to take issue with the way Tesla has been advertising its driver aid systems. If that happens, it could show that Tesla isn’t as close to autonomous driving as it seems to think it is — and potentially save people from risking their lives too.

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