California Attorney General’s Rob Bonta is investigating Tesla and is asking for information from former employees and customers regarding Autopilot safety issues and false advertising complaints. The owner of a 2018 Tesla Model 3, filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission in August 2022, regarding “phantom braking” he described as sudden, automatic braking for no apparent reason he was experiencing when he used the driver assistance systems, or Autopilot, on the highway. The owner was misled by Tesla after paying thousands of dollars for the company’s premium driver assistance option, marketed as Full Self Driving capability (FSD) in the U.S.
During the second quarter of 2023 an analyst with Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office left the owner a voicemail requesting an interview with him regarding the issues in the complaint. The Tesla’s owner shared the voice message and provided a copy of the FTC’s automated response acknowledging receipt of his complaint. The media confirmed the person who called from the California AG’s office works as an analyst there. The government employee did not request confidentiality in the voicemail.
Phantom braking is a known issue Tesla customers have complained about to federal agencies for years and can leave drivers susceptible to being rear-ended, among other dangers. Musk has long promised investors and customers that features and functions would be added to Tesla vehicles over time, via over-the-air software updates, that would turn their cars into self-driving or autonomous vehicles. On Tesla’s second-quarter earnings call, Musk called himself “the boy who cried FSD.”
To date, Tesla has failed to deliver a self-driving car while they continue to sell “level 2” systems, which require an attentive driver behind the wheel who is ready to steer or brake at any time. “Tesla should offer customers the option to receive a full refund of Autopilot features if they are unsatisfied with the product,” the owner of the Tesla said in an interview. In purchasing a car equipped with FSD we thought we bought a full autonomy product and we received a driver monitoring product with partial autonomy. Multiple owners of cars equipped with FSD have been contacted by analysts with the attorney general’s office after voicing safety and related concerns.
A former Tesla employee, whose identity was withheld to protect his privacy has come forward and provided additional information. This person previously voiced concerns about Autopilot and FSD safety issues at Tesla and publicly. Tesla and the California attorney general’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment. The FTC also declined to comment. It’s not unusual for law enforcement offices in the U.S. to obtain consumer complaints filed to the FTC via an online database called the Consumer Sentinel Network. According to the federal agency’s website, the network “gives law enforcement members access to reports submitted directly to the Federal Trade Commission by consumers,” and to other reports shared by “data contributors.”
Tesla previously identified “requests from the DOJ for documents related to Tesla’s Autopilot and FSD features,” Tesla has not previously disclosed the California Attorney General was investigating the company. California has been Tesla’s largest U.S. market for its electric vehicles and is home to the company’s first vehicle assembly plant in Fremont. The company relocated its corporate headquarters to Austin, Texas from Palo Alto, California, in 2021.
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