Tesla Faces U.S. Criminal Probe Over Self-Driving Claims
One more from Reuters today, this time by Mike Spector and Dan Levine:
Tesla Inc is under criminal investigation in the United States over claims that the company’s electric vehicles can drive themselves, three people familiar with the matter said.
As part of the latest probe, Justice Department prosecutors in Washington and San Francisco are examining whether Tesla misled consumers, investors and regulators by making unsupported claims about its driver assistance technology’s capabilities, the sources said.
Officials conducting their inquiry could ultimately pursue criminal charges, seek civil sanctions or close the probe without taking any action, they said.
Coincidentally, October 20, just last week, marked six years since Tesla appeared to show off its fully autonomous capabilities in a video later revealed to have involved a preplanned route made using a different version of the software — oh, and the car crashed while filming.
Spector and Levine repeatedly point out how difficult this case will be for prosecutors given Tesla’s various cover-your-ass statements in its presentations and software. What I see is Elon Musk’s dependence on weasel words and innuendo to claim greater capability when it suits the company’s marketing, then retreat to a more guarded position when legally compromising.
Even if prosecutors do not find evidence of criminal conduct, this is still an unethical practice. People have died while believing their Tesla was capable of driving itself. Media outlets who have unquestioningly parroted the company’s marketing should also reconsider how they cover these kinds of pre-announcements. Couching it in terms like “Musk said” is not good enough, nor is it a case where there are two equally-valid sides and readers should decide who to believe. We should expect better.