Tesla Buyers Say Elon Musk Overhyped 'Self-Driving' Tech


A California Tesla owner is suing Tesla Inc. in a proposed class action in federal court, saying the company's CEO Elon Musk has been promising full self-driving "in a year" since 2016, but is still not "remotely close" to reaching that goal.

In the complaint, filed Wednesday, named plaintiff Briggs A. Matsko alleges that the company has privately admitted to regulators that its technology is nowhere near the lofty promises Musk has made, and that the company has effectively been using its buyers as untrained testers while steadily increasing the price of the "Autopilot" feature even as drivers are injured and killed in accidents involving the technology.

Matsko said that he bought a 2018 Model X new and paid $5,000 over the listed price for the "Enhanced Autopilot" version of the company's advanced driver assistance systems, or ADAS, technology, while the company and its CEO promised self-driving tech would rapidly advance.

"It is now four years later, and Tesla has never provided Plaintiff anything remotely approaching the fully self-driving car it promised to provide," Matsko wrote.

The complaint cites the six-point scale published by SAE International, previously known as the Society of Automotive Engineers, which has become an international standard for describing the capabilities of self-driving cars, with 0 on the scale meaning no automation and 5 being full automation without any input necessary from drivers.

While Musk has promised to reach 5 on that scale for years — often telling investors or the media that Tesla would reach that point within the calendar year or within a year — Matsko said in the complaint that the company's engineers and attorneys have admitted to regulators that at best, Tesla is at a 2 on the scale, meaning that drivers must still actively drive the vehicles, and are nowhere near the benchmarks for progressing to 3.

In the meantime, Matsko wrote that Tesla has been increasing the add-on price for its autopilot features, with the company announcing that starting in September it would cost $15,000, and drivers are being injured or killed in accidents that involve the autopilot feature.

The complaint further alleges that since 2016, Tesla has used a promotional video of one of its vehicles supposedly on autopilot with someone in the driver's seat "for legal reasons" who is "not doing anything," despite engineers who had worked on the video later confessing that the vehicle had many problems, including a collision that required repairs, in the filming of that video.

Matsko also cites a number of real-world accidents involving Tesla vehicles, including a 2018 crash in which the software allegedly steered the vehicle directly into a concrete barrier on a California highway, and other incidents of the vehicles hitting stationary obstacles like an overturned tractor-trailer.

Following a crash in China, Tesla removed "self-driving" language from its Chinese website, according to the complaint, but has not removed that language from its English-language materials.

The complaint also notes that regulators like the California Department of Motor Vehicles have also taken aim at Tesla, with the state filing suit against Tesla in July 2022 for misleading and deceptive marketing, and the DMV is seeking to revoke Tesla's California license to manufacture and sell its vehicles.

In addition, Tesla has been the target of both a federal investigation and a class action over "phantom braking" in its vehicles, with allegations that they come to a stop for seemingly no reason.

In the suit, Matsko aims to represent either a nationwide class or a California class of everyone who bought or leased from Tesla one of its vehicles with an "Autopilot," "Enhanced Autopilot," or "Full Self-Driving Capability" feature from January 2016 to now, and brings causes of action for violations of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, breach of express and implied warranty, false advertising, unfair competition, fraud and unjust enrichment, among others.

Matsko is asking the court to block Tesla from continuing its deceptive practices, as well as seeking compensatory and punitive damages, including restitution and disgorgement of its profits from selling the vehicles.

"As alleged in the complaint, people have relied upon the representations of Tesla that the self-driving capabilities are completely safe, when Tesla knew they had many problems," Joseph W. Cotchett of Cotchett Pitre & McCarthy LLP, representing Matsko, said in a press release Thursday.  (To read the entire article, please click HERE)

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