Germany wants Tesla to stop advertising its Autopilot feature because it’s “misleading”

Humans still required.
Humans still required.
Image: Reuters/Jason Lee
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Germany’s transit agency, the Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA), has told Tesla to stop calling its semiautonomous self-driving technology “Autopilot,” according to Reuters, because the term is “misleading.” The agency sent a letter to the California electric car manufacturer Sunday (Oct. 16) requesting a name change for the technology when advertised in Germany.

“In order to prevent misunderstanding and incorrect customers’ expectations, we demand that the misleading term Autopilot is no longer used in advertising the system,” the KBA told Tesla, Reuters reported. The KBA also wrote to German Tesla owners, telling them that they must remain alert and attentive at all times when driving their cars, even when Autopilot is engaged, Reuters said.

Roughly a year ago, Tesla unveiled Autopilot, a software system that uses sensors and cameras built into Tesla cars to allow the vehicles to detect lanes, drive, park, and steer on their own in certain conditions. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said that he wants to use the technology as the underlying system upon which to build an interconnected network of self-driving cars that could one day be used as an autonomous on-demand ride-hailing service.

At launch, however, Musk explicitly referred to the software as “a beta.” In the past year, there have been multiple incidents involving drivers crashing their Teslas while in autopilot mode, including one driver in Florida who died after his Model S crashed into a truck on the highway.

Some incidents have been caused by drivers no longer giving their full attention to the road, as they are no longer actively driving and could theoretically take their hands off the steering wheel, even though Tesla says not to do this in its Autopilot communications. Others have been caused by the software allegedly not working as intended, as was the claim in a fatal Model S crash in China this September.

Tesla wasn’t immediately available for comment, but a spokesperson told Reuters that the term has existed for years in the airline industry, and the company has always communicated that drivers need to remain alert, even when Autopilot is turned on. “Just as in an airplane, when used properly, Autopilot reduces driver workload and provides an added layer of safety when compared to purely manual driving,” the spokesperson added.

Autopilot technology has been around for decades in planes, to the point where they can indeed essentially fly themselves. On the other hand, Tesla’s technology is far newer and far less tested, and there are, realistically, a lot fewer obstacles to crash into while flying at 35,000 feet.