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Thatcham backs German court’s Tesla Autopilot ruling


A court in Munich has ruled that Tesla has exaggerated promises about its so-called ‘self-driving’ technology, with the carmaker’s use of the term ‘Autopilot’ coming under strong scrutiny.

As such, Tesla is now banned from using the term Autopilot, along with other similar marketing material in the German market.

Thatcham Research has now come out in support of the court’s ruling, with research director Matthew Avery saying the term Autopilot is “misleading”, and it’s not there to “become an invisible chauffeur”.

Avery commented: “We have long warned of the pitfalls to the Autopilot system. Its seemingly competent performance can encourage drivers to hand too much control to the vehicle and lose sight of their responsibilities behind the wheel.

“This is a progressive process that begins when motorists are marketed the ‘self-driving’ experience.

“Autopilot is not a self-driving system. It is there to provide driver assistance, not become an invisible chauffeur.”

Avery went on to say: “We support the German competition commission’s ruling. Naming is key, and Autopilot is an especially misleading term.”

Thatcham’s research director also highlighted how a driver’s over-reliance on the Autopilot system can be catastrophic.

“Reports of accidents with Autopilot engaged have become all too familiar. Many are fatal and we don’t know if drivers were “taking a chance” or worse still, literally believing their Autopilot system was fully capable of driving the car itself.

“When marketed and used sensibly, systems like this will ultimately benefit road safety,” Avery added. “However, without a safety-first principle enshrined in new technology adoption, our roads will become more dangerous and it will take longer to reap the societal benefits new systems have the potential to bring.”

Avery concluded: “Although the case in Germany focused on Tesla’s Autopilot, we believe it should serve as a brightly flashing hazard light on misleading marketing for all carmakers.

“If the warning is heeded, we look forward to a future where these exciting technologies can truly deliver on their promise.”