Tesla has confirmed one of its cars crashed in China but is yet to offer any reason as to what might have gone wrong. Subsequent investigations also revealed the car was in autopilot mode when it scraped against another parked vehicle.
The owner of the car, 33-year old programmer, Luo Zhen is however blaming the autopilot feature of the Model S for the crash claiming the Tesla sales staff had overblown the self-driving capabilities of the car during the sales process.
Tesla however stated they have always refrained from using the term 'self-driving' indicating their autopilot enabled cars are never meant to be driven on their own. Instead, the system is being promoted as an Advanced Driver Assist System (ADAS) that is designed to assist the driver and not take over the entire control of the car.
"We have never described autopilot as an autonomous technology or a 'self-driving car,' and any third-party descriptions to this effect are not accurate," the Tesla spokeswoman said.
Tesla meanwhile also stated they had failed to detect the presence of driver's hands on the steering wheel, a key requisite for anyone when driving in autopilot mode. In fact, the system also makes its mandatory to have two hands on the wheel for it to function and will let out a warning if it detects otherwise, LA Times mentioned. The system is also designed to stop the car if no hands are detected on the steering for a prolonged period of time.
Luo told Reuters he was looking at his mobile and the car's navigation system and glanced up only once in a while, something that he said he has been doing for over a month now.
Luo also attributed his behaviour to the hard selling tactics used by the Tesla sales team who have promoted the car as one that can drive on its own. The team also usually demo the autopilot feature to prospective clients by driving with their hands off the steering.
Several other Tesla owners in China have also confirmed they were made to believe the feature amounted to autonomous driving and not assisted driving. According to Reuters, even the official Tesla website in China is reported to have the term 'zidong jiashi' which means 'self-driving'. That the same term is also used to describe airplane autopilot has only added to the confusion among users.
Meanwhile, Luo has also posted online on Weibo a video of the crash, how his blue Model S scraped the sides of a Volkswagen that was parked though illegally and a portion of which remained jutted out on the highway.
No injuries have been reported. However, given that the latest crash which is also China's first has occurred within months of the fatal May crash in Florida, Tesla's autopilot system will no doubt be subjected to a lot of scrutiny.