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Elon Musk Greenlit a Misleading Video About Tesla

By Glendale Personal Injury Attorney on April 10, 2023

White tesla drives on a highway.

In 2016, Tesla released a demo video that portrayed a car with the company’s driver assistance system, Autopilot, as self-driving. Some believe that Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, greenlighted this video and that it was misleading to consumers.

What About the Tesla Video May be Misleading?

The nearly four-minute long video opens with the text, “The person in the driver’s seat is only there for legal reasons. He is not doing anything. The car is driving itself.” Then an engineer enters the Model X Tesla. Although he is sitting in the driver’s seat, he keeps his hands off the wheel as the car pulls out of a driveway, turns left, and travels to the former headquarters of Tesla, Inc. in Palo Alto, California. In the video, after the car stops and the engineer exits the vehicle, the driver’s side door appears to shut itself, and the unmanned vehicle parallel parks itself.

When the video was released, it was not revealed that a three-dimensional digital map had been created by engineers for the route the vehicle took to the company’s former headquarters. In addition, the Model X was involved in an accident and hit a fence during the demo.

In a deposition in 2019, lawyers for family members of Walter Huang, an Apple Inc. employee who was killed in a crash while using Autopilot, asked the current director of Autopilot software if the video accurately reflected the capabilities of Autopilot at the time of its release. The director’s answer was, “The intent of the video was not to accurately portray what was available for customers in 2016. It was to portray what was possible.

Why Do Some Believe Elon Musk Greenlighted the Misleading Video?

Elon Musk reportedly oversaw the creation of the video and dictated the opening lines that stated the car was driving itself. He emailed Tesla’s Autopilot team in October 2016, saying, “Just want to be absolutely clear that everyone’s top priority is achieving an amazing Autopilot demo drive. Since this is a demo, it is fine to hardcode some of it since we will backfill with production code later in an OTA update.” (This is in reference to using temporary code and updating it later with an over-the-air update.) “I will be telling the world that this is what the car will be able to do, not that it can do this upon receipt.”

What Ramifications Could the Tesla Video Have?

The 2016 Tesla video represented the company’s Autopilot system with capabilities that have yet to materialize as of 2023. After several different versions of the Autopilot software, Tesla is still telling customers to keep their hands on the wheel and be prepared to take over from the “Full Self-Driving” system at any moment.

In June 2021, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued an order requiring certain identified manufacturers and operators to report traffic crashes involving automated driver-assistance systems. Although the majority of these collisions were reported by Tesla, the agency determined that the data was too limited for any conclusions regarding safety. NHTSA has two ongoing investigations into whether Autopilot is defective.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles accused Tesla of misleading customers about its driver-assistance systems. A Tesla customer in California subsequently sought class-action status for a lawsuit against the company based on deceptive marketing.

If you have been injured in a collision involving a Tesla “self-driving” vehicle, contact a Glendale car accident attorney at Aratta Law Firm at (818) 550-1111.

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