Tesla Autopilot gets flak in Germany over alleged ‘misleading advertising’

(Credit: Tesla)

As Gigafactory Berlin’s construction hits its stride, Tesla appears to be facing some pressure from a German regional trial court over the company’s use of “Autopilot” to describe its advanced driver assist suite, which comes standard with every new vehicle purchase today. A suit against the electric car maker was filed by the Wettbewerbszentrale (Competition Center), which is now being handled by a Munich Regional Court. 

The Competition Center, widely considered as the largest and most influential national and cross-border self-regulatory institution to enforce the law against unfair competition in Germany, alleged that Tesla’s decision to list its vehicles with “Autopilot included” is “misleading advertising.” The group also accused Tesla of selling its vehicles with the promise that they are already capable of “automatic driving in town,” seemingly referring to features of the Full Self-Driving suite. 

According to the institution, Tesla’s vehicles today could not drive without a driver, and they could not do so legally because there are no laws about self-driving cars in Germany yet. The Competition Center also stated that consumers cannot buy a car that automatically drives in urban areas and on the freeway, even if Tesla gives this impression. 

Unfortunately for Tesla, it appears that the Munich Regional Court is siding somewhat with the Competition Center and its complaints. In a statement to Spiegel, presiding judge Isolde Hannamann warned that the “standards of the law against unfair competition are rather strict.” 

Tesla’s lawyers, for their part, argued that the company’s use of the word “Autopilot” to describe its driver-assist suite is clear. Tesla’s legal team also stated that the company is very stern in reminding drivers that Autopilot and Full Self-Driving features require active monitoring. This is accurate, considering that Tesla does not allow drivers to take a hands-off approach when using Autopilot. 

It should also be noted that several of the institution’s complaints about Tesla’s Autopilot seem to be referring to features that are still yet to come to the company’s Full Self-Driving suite, which is a completely different product. Among these include automatic driving in urban areas, as well as traffic light and stop sign control. Such are FSD features, and are clearly listed in Tesla’s German configurator as future capabilities. 

Apart from the Competition Center’s apparent misunderstanding of the differences between existing Autopilot features and upcoming Full Self-Driving capabilities, it is also interesting to note that the institution seemed rather numb to other automakers’ even actual misleading advertisement campaigns. Examples of these include Volkswagen’s controversial “Clean Diesel” push, as well as Toyota’s insistence on using its “Self-Charging” moniker for its petrol-powered hybrids. 

Simon Alvarez: Simon is a reporter with a passion for electric cars and clean energy. Fascinated by the world envisioned by Elon Musk, he hopes to make it to Mars (at least as a tourist) someday.
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