Just days after we reported on a massive NHTSA Investigation into Tesla's Autopilot feature for more than 700,000 Tesla vehicles, the pressure is ratcheting up another step.
Two U.S. Senators asked the Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday to examine whether or not Tesla misled consumers and endangered the public by marketing its driving systems as "Full Self Driving", according to Automotive News.
Senate Democrats Richard Blumenthal and Edward Markey wrote: "Tesla and (CEO) Mr. (Elon) Musk’s repeated overstatements of their vehicle’s capabilities...put Tesla drivers -- and all of the traveling public -- at risk of serious injury or death."
Their letter continued: "Tesla drivers listen to these claims and believe their vehicles are equipped to drive themselves – with potentially deadly consequences."
Recall, earlier this week, we reported that regulators in the United States had finally come to their senses and opened a long-overdue investigation into Tesla's Autopilot. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said the investigation includes Tesla's Model X, S and 3 for model years 2014-2021. The broad range of models and model years means that this could be the large-scale investigation that skeptics have been requesting for years, we noted.
The NHTSA said the investigation would assess technologies, methods "used to monitor, assist, and enforce the driver's engagement" during autopilot operation, according to Bloomberg.
GLJ Research's Gordon Johnson was the first analyst to weigh in this week, stating that the investigation could result in sentiment turning "decidedly downward" if sell-side peers begin to understand that Tesla's proclaimed autonomy prospects are nowhere near what many think.
Johnson's note opened by describing the situation and noting the investigation covers 765,000 vehicles: "The U.S. government has opened a formal investigation into TSLA's Autopilot partially automated driving system, saying it has trouble spotting parked emergency vehicles. The investigation covers 765,000 vehicles, almost everything that TSLA has sold in the U.S. since the start of the 2014 model year."
"Autopilot has frequently been misused by TSLA drivers, who have been caught driving drunk or even riding in the back seat while a car rolled down a California highway," he wrote.
Johnson spoke to two lawyers about the investigation this week and relayed their thoughts:
"...in our discussions with two attorneys this morning with knowledge of the matter, we see problems here for TSLA. More specifically, we believe TSLA’s biggest weakness is its weak measures (which have been alleged to be intentional) to make sure the driver is paying attention (which is EXACTLY what the NHTSA is investigating) – this is the opinion of both lawyers we spoke to this morning. More specifically, in the words of one lawyer: “Whether the system is weak at detecting emergency vehicles compared to other “FSD” systems or just insufficient overall, it shouldn’t be used at all if the system is not taking appropriate steps to make sure the driver is paying attention”.
Goldman Sachs followed up by predicting that the investigation could take months, or even years, to complete.