Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk has been telling the public for years that fully autonomous Teslas are just around the corner, only about a year or two off.
However, regulators have been hearing a very different story from the company.
Tesla lawyers recently admitted, via official correspondence with California’s Department of Motor Vehicles, that the $10,000 option sold by Tesla as Full Self-Driving Capability is actually incapable of full self-driving. Tesla attorney Eric Williams said in a Dec. 28 letter to the DMV, “Currently neither Autopilot nor FSD Capability is an autonomous system,”. He did add that it could eventually change.
Elon Musk has been tweeting about a major Full Self-Driving software release. Yet, Williams’ statement to the DMV suggests that no significant enhancements that would allow full self-driving are expected. He further indicated that the “final release” of the current feature package that enables Teslas to stop at traffic lights and make turns without human input would continue to be an advanced driver-assist feature. That basically means that the vehicle can’t drive itself, without continuous attention from a human driver.
The emails were revealed following a public records request from Plainsite, an organization that advocates for transparency. They clearly show Tesla being questioned by the DMV about its Full Self-Driving technology claims. The emails also question the company on why it hasn’t yet applied for a driverless vehicle test permit. Tesla’s emails have been described as “cringe-worthy” by Bryant Walker Smith, an autonomous vehicle law expert at the University of South Carolina.
When cash was short at Tesla in April 2019, Musk announced that 1 million fully autonomous robotaxis would be on the road by the end of 2020, making money for their owners. Just weeks later, Tesla managed to sell $3 billion worth of Tesla stock, solving its cash crunch. Not a single robotaxi had been built by the end of 2020. As per all indications from the DMV emails, it seems that they won’t be built anytime soon.
Tesla does not have a media relations department and was unavailable for comment. This raises an important question concerning public safety: Is Tesla conducting driverless car experiments that could put the public and the company’s customers at avoidable risk?