Buttigieg: Tesla ‘Autopilot’ Marketing ‘A Concern’

The USDOT secretary says marketing doesn’t fall under his department’s investigative authority, but expressed disapproval of language that implies autonomous operation.

1 minute read

March 20, 2023, 10:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Acknowledging that “marketing language is not part of his department’s investigations,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg nevertheless warned that Tesla’s use of the term ‘autopilot’ is misleading and “belies Tesla’s own requirement for drivers to keep both hands on the wheel.” 

As Keith Laing reports in Bloomberg, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) “opened an investigations into possible Autopilot defects in August 2021 and a subsequent probe into inadvertent braking in Feb. 2022.” Buttigieg declined to comment on the NHTSA investigation, but said the language was a matter of common sense.

While the Department of Transportation chief doesn’t claim regulatory authority over naming conventions, another arm of the government does: The Justice Department. US prosecutors have been looking into whether Tesla has made misleading statements about Autopilot’s capabilities, Bloomberg reported in October.

The company has also been criticized for its so-called ‘Full Self-Driving’ mode, which also required a fully engaged driver behind the wheel. The carmaker recalled more than 360,000 vehicles in February due to concerns over safety failures in the software. In December 2022, California banned Tesla from using the term 'Full Self-Driving' and other deceptive language on vehicles sold in the state. An op-ed in CalMatters calls on California state leaders to crack down on Tesla to protect Californians and ensure the technology is safe before being widely deployed.

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