In 2016, Tesla released a now-famous video that showcased their Autopilot system driving without the need for any human interruption. However, a group of former employees are now claiming that it was ‘’staged’’. They also said that the mule car had even hit a roadside barrier on Tesla’s property during filming, which meant recalling and repairing the vehicle before sending it out again.
The revelation was collectively made by a group of 19 past Tesla employees who wanted to remain anonymous. Eight of these people worked specifically within the Autopilot engineering division of the EV brand.
Here’s the allegedly deceptive clip in question:
The video was released to help promote what was, at the time, Tesla’s latest ‘’Autopilot 2.0’’ system. An investigation by The New York Times suggests that Tesla could have been portraying the image that it had the technology readily available for customer distribution when it didn’t.
The accusations were headlined by a pair of former Tesla Autopilot engineers who both claimed the Model S was not only embarking on a journey that was predetermined, but also aided by 3D mapping - something unavailable on the customer version of the system.
The New York Times also reports that at least two of the claimants say Elon musk was essentially promising technology that wasn’t yet available. It was also noted that the Director of the Autopilot program at the time, Sterling Anderson, had warned Tesla’s marketing division not to refer to the Autopilot as ‘’autonomous’’ or ‘’self-driving’’ since this would ‘’mislead the public’’.
Anderson ultimately left Tesla amidst the commotion, allegedly due to a conflict in Tesla’s marketing tactics, which adds further fuel to the claims made by the group of former employees.
It’ll probably come as no surprise that neither Tesla CEO Elon Musk nor a “top Tesla lawyer” responded to requests for comment from the NYT regarding its article. The company dissolved its US-based press department in 2020.
The official line from Tesla is that Autopilot users need to remain alert and ready to take back over should the limitations of the system be reached. However, multiple safety organisations including the IIHS have branded the use of the name ‘Autopilot’ as irresponsible, causing drivers to overestimate its capabilities.