Tesla's Autopilot boasts, safety probed by California AG

This tech is certainly full of something

California's Attorney General is reportedly investigating complaints about the safety of Tesla's so-called self-driving features, as well as boasts made by the automaker about the technology in its marketing.

CEO Elon Musk has repeatedly come under fire for making outlandish claims about the capabilities of Tesla's Autopilot software. Last year, the California Department of Motor Vehicles sued the manufacturer, alleging it misled motorists by labelling its advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) as "Autopilot" and "Full Self-Driving," despite the systems' inability to actually drive fully autonomously.

In reality, Tesla's ADAS technology falls into the Society of Automotive Engineers' Level 2 category. It partially helps drivers perform some tasks – such as accelerating, braking, and steering automatically – but requires those humans to supervise the car and be ready to take over when appropriate.

Now, the office of the US state's Attorney General is also reportedly weighing up whether Tesla over-promised and under-delivered.

A 2018 Tesla Model 3 driver, Greg Wester, filed a complaint with the FTC in August last year over the so-called "phantom braking" issue reported with some of Musk's machines. Wester raised concerns about his car automatically braking for no reason while driving in Autopilot mode and felt deceived by its claims of full self-driving, after having paid thousands of dollars for the optional extra. 

"Tesla should offer customers the option to receive a full refund of Autopilot features if they are unsatisfied with the product," Wester told CNBC. "We bought a full autonomy product and we received a driver monitoring product with partial autonomy."

An analyst within the office of California Attorney General Rob Bonta recently left Wester a voicemail asking to interview him about the claims made in his complaint to the FTC, reportedly as part of an official investigation. 

A spokesperson from the AG's office told The Register on Thursday: "To protect its integrity, we're unable to comment on, even to confirm or deny, a potential or ongoing investigation."

This news comes just as Tesla is facing yet more potential problems.

The electric-car maker has been accused of deploying features that deliberately overestimate how much energy its vehicles' batteries have left. The remaining battery life, showing how many miles a Tesla can drive without a recharge, is estimated by algorithms. The numbers were inflated, it's claimed, and suddenly switched to more realistic levels only when power levels fell below 50 percent, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Tesla rigged the software over a decade ago to make it look like its cars could drive further than they could, according to Reuters.

Some drivers complaining about their cars running out of juice earlier than expected requested car inspections – only to be turned down by staff whose job it was to cancel as many of these appointments as possible, it's alleged. 

Tesla hired the so-called "Diversion Team" in Las Vegas. Employees were apparently told that they were saving the company $1,000 for each appointment they cancelled. Some staff members reportedly put their phones on mute, and celebrated when they managed to turn down a client – including by ringing a xylophone, clapping, and standing on their desks.

It's not clear if Tesla's faulty range meter algorithms are still running on its cars. The Register has asked Tesla for comment. ®

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