April 19, 2024

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Major PR Crisis looming for Tesla with Probe of its Autopilot System

11 crashes involving Tesla vehicles in recent times have necessitated a response from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  This response has come in the form of a probe into Tesla’s autopilot system, and an investigation is being conducted into crashes that occurred between 2018 to 2021.

The government’s safety agency is specifically looking into crashes that involved the use of Tesla’s Autopilot driving mode or its Traffic-Aware Cruise Control. With news of the probe circulating across the country, Tesla’s stock has predictably been on a decline, declining by 9% on Tuesday before rebounding slightly on Wednesday.

No one knows exactly what the outcome of the probe by federal safety regulators will be, but the automaker will likely have to impose limitations on the use of the driver-assistance features of its cars. In some quarters, some fear that Tesla might have to disable some of these features entirely.

Impact of Probe on Users

The biggest impact of the probe and the recent auto crashes involving Tesla cars is the dampening of the trust that users have for the relatively new automobile technologies that Tesla promotes. Many Americans were already skeptical about jumping on the self-driving car bandwagon and will need even more education, and convincing to alter their perception.

Interest in autonomous systems and high-tech cars will also likely wane, and adoption is likely to drop as a result. An important group of customers for Tesla are the electric carmaker’s early adopters; the group of consumers that bought into Tesla’s vision of self-driving cars and advanced assistance tech from scratch.

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The onus is on Tesla to emerge from this crisis correctly and restore this shaking trust for its high-tech cars and driver assistance technologies.

Previous Investigations and Tesla’s Stance

This isn’t the first time a federal probe involving Tesla’s Autopilot system is being conducted. In 2016, the NHTSA conducted an investigation into the system following a crash that involved the Autopilot technology in the state of Florida.

Four years later, Congress conducted a separate hearing on Tesla’s Autopilot system; the Energy and Commerce Committee had a sitting in February 2020 to deliberate on it. In April 2021, another hearing was held again, this time by the House Commerce, Science, and Transportation committee.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has consistently stated via tweets that his company’s Autopilot system minimizes the risk of crashes both actively and passively, and he also thinks that Tesla drivers are safer when they use the system than when they don’t use it.

The company’s website is a bit more cautious though as it states that the system should be used by drivers that are paying full attention, and are ready to take control at a moment’s notice. There’s also a subtle hint there that the driver-assistance and self-driving technologies of the cars do not make them completely autonomous as it is.

The timing of the probe isn’t great for Tesla, as the electric- car maker is gearing up for its Tesla AI Day event on Thursday.