When Luo Zhen crashed his Model X on a highway in China late last month, it created a firestorm of controversy. Tesla Motors insists it clearly instructs every owner that they must remain actively engaged in the driving process and ready to take control of the car at a moment’s notice when using Autopilot. But Luo tells a different story.
He says the Tesla sales representative he spoke with when he was considering buying a Tesla took his hands off the wheel during a test drive to demonstrate how the car could drive itself. “The impression they give everyone is that this is self-driving, this isn’t assisted driving,” Luo says. He also points out that Tesla uses the phrase zidong jiashi on its website. That phrase has at least two meanings. One is “self driving” and the other is a reference to the auto pilot system used in aircraft.
When Luo posted a video on YouTube about how he was told the car could drive itself, it created ripples felt all the way across the Pacific at Tesla headquarters in Silicon Valley. During the weekend, the phrase zidong jiashi and the word “autopilot” have both been deleted from Tesla’s Chinese language website. In their place, a term that means “self-assisted driving” is now used, however the company would later correct this in a statement issued Monday stating that it was looking to revise some language on the site to make it clearer to drivers that Autopilot is a driver-assist system and not a self-driving system.
A Tesla representative explained to Reuters in an e-mail, “At Tesla, we are continuously making improvements, including to translations. We’ve been in the process of addressing any discrepancies across languages for many weeks. Timing had nothing to do with current events or articles.”
In addition, Tesla sales representatives in China have recently received new training. From now on, they will keep two hands on the wheel at all times during test drives. It should be noted that Chinese law requires two hands on the wheel for all drivers.
This issue is not confined to China. In a comment posted after the original story appeared, joeski said, “I was told a multitude of differing descriptions of AP operation here in the US by several TESLA sales personnel.” He went on to say that Tesla sales people frequently misrepresent what the system can and cannot do.
It will be interesting to see whether the company alters the language it uses on other versions of its website to describe its Autopilot function or whether is issues new instructions to its sales staff in other countries with regard to how to demonstrate the system properly.