Elon Musk's Tesla accused of fraud, false advertising of 'autopilot' technology in lawsuit
Drivers are suing electric car manufacturer Tesla, accusing the company of deceiving consumers about the abilities of its autopilot system, which is sold for thousands of dollars as an add-on to its cars.
The class-action lawsuit filed this week in a California court by Tesla customer Briggs Matsko, who said he paid $5,000 for the autopilot upgrade in 2018 Tesla Model X, seeks damages and a jury trial. It claims Tesla and its CEO, Elon Musk, broke several warranty, false advertising, negligence, fraud and deceit laws.
“In every year since 2016, Tesla and Musk have repeatedly made deceptive and misleading statements to consumers indicating that a fully self-driving, fully autonomous Tesla vehicle was just around the corner, often expressly stating that would occur by the end of that calendar year or ‘within the next year’,” says the lawsuit, which was viewed by USA TODAY.
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Lawsuit alleges deception in Tesla videos
The lawsuit pointed to several statements about Tesla’s Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, the name of its autopilot technology, made by Musk online and by the company on its website. They include a 2016 video shot from behind the wheel showing a Tesla car completely driving itself to its destination through busy streets and intersections.
“In reality, Tesla employees [who] made the video would later reveal that the car in the video had significant assistance from commercial mapping software not available to Tesla customers, and that the car still performed poorly and even ran into a fence during filming,” the lawsuit says.
The video is still featured “prominently” on Tesla’s website, according to the lawsuit.
From 2017 to 2019, the company promised on its website that certain versions of its cars would be capable of “full-self driving in almost all circumstances,” and “conduct short and long distance trips with no action required by the person in the driver’s seat,” according to the lawsuit. In addition, Musk promised Tesla vehicles would be able to perform a fully autonomous cross-country drive in 2016 and again in 2019..
A fully autonomous cross-country trek has yet to be made.
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Part of the suit draws on several collisions, some of them fatal, over the years involving Tesla cars on self-drive mode, including a 2018 solo highway crash that killed a Tesla driver commuting to his Silicon Valley job.
A National Transportation Safety Board investigation concluded a probable cause was the Tesla Autopilot system that steered the vehicle into a highway gore area "due to system limitations.” Another probable cause was the driver’s own inattentiveness facilitated by “the Tesla vehicle’s ineffective monitoring of driver engagement,” the investigation said.
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The lawsuit cites multiple examples of high-level Tesla employees and its legal counsel contradicting Musk’s public characterizations of ADAS’s self-driving capabilities over the past few years. It also points to the California Department of Motor Vehicles' accusation in July that Tesla falsely advertised its autopilot system.
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Despite its troubles, Tesla has steadily increased the price of its ADAS upgrades. Musk announced in August that Tesla would increase the price of the system on its new cars from $12,000 to $15,000 this month.
USA TODAY's request for comment to Tesla was not immediately returned Thursday.