Musk schmoozes Chinese premier as Tesla Full Self-Driving remains parked

Automaker could really do with the training data

Tesla boss Elon Musk met with Chinese Premier Li Qiang in Beijing to discuss electric vehicles and self-driving cars.

China Daily quoted Li as describing Tesla's development in China as "a successful example of trade cooperation between Beijing and Washington." In response, Musk said "thanks to the hard work and wisdom of the Chinese team, Tesla's Shanghai gigafactory is his company's top performer."

Musk used his own social media platform to describe himself as "honored to meet with Premier Li Qiang."

It is Musk's second visit to China within a year. The country is Tesla's second biggest market, and a recent report highlighted the country's lead in terms of electric vehicle adoption. Almost one in three cars on the roads in China is expected to be electric by 2030.

According to reports, Musk would very much like China to give the local green light to Full Self-Driving (FSD). The autonomous driving mode is already available in the US, but Chinese road users have thus far been spared the prospect.

A Counterpoint report reckons that level 3 automation – where the car will drive itself, but the driver must remain alert in case intervention is required – is likely to arrive in meaningful numbers in 2024, with China having an installed base exceeding one million by 2026.

China's electric car manufacturers are making rapid progress in the area, although Counterpoint noted that Mercedes was first to introduce Level 3 autonomy globally.

However, Tesla's self-driving cars have been on the road for a while now. Research Analyst Mohit Sharma said: "Tesla has a big advantage in terms of mileage, but excluding Lidar sets the bar higher and increases risks significantly, regardless of how much training data there is."

That training data would increase substantially should FSD be approved for use on Chinese roads.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published a report [PDF] at the end of last week in which Tesla's Autopilot was flagged as a contributing factor in at least 467 crashes.

The Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) identified at least 13 crashes involving one or more fatalities "and many more involving serious injuries, in which foreseeable driver misuse of the system played an apparent role."

The report states: "Crash and human factors assessment showed that Autopilot controls did not sufficiently ensure driver attention and appropriate use.

"At the same time, peer analysis and vehicle evaluations established that Autopilot invited greater driver confidence via its higher control authority and ease of engagement."

Tesla had already issued a recall, via an over-the-air software update, for two million vehicles equipped with Autopilot, which was supposed to improve driver monitoring system.

Now NHTSA has opened another investigation [PDF] into the adequacy of the recall.

Tesla cut the price of its Model 3 in China earlier this month and announced the company's workforce would be reduced by 10 percent. Tesla reported a breathtaking net profit plunge of 55 percent last week as factors, including pressure from China-based manufacturers, bore down on it. ®

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