Tesla Driver Blames Autopilot Crash in China on Sales Staff Misrepresenting the Technology

The driver of a Tesla Model S that crashed in Autopilot in China is contending sales staff overplayed “self-driving” capabilities.

Tesla said Wednesday that a Model S crashed in Beijing while in Autopilot mode in a minor incident without injuries. Tesla said it had reviewed data to confirm the car was in Autopilot mode during the crash last week.

Luo Zhen, a 33-year-old programer, was driving to work and engaged the Autopilot function as he often does on Beijing’s highways, he told Reuters. He said that is car hit a vehicle parked halfway off the highway, which tore off the parked vehicle’s side mirror and scraped both cars. There were no injuries from the collision.

Luo said that he had filmed the crash with a dashboard camera.

Luo blamed the crash on a fault in the Autopilot system. He also said he’d been misinformed by Tesla’s sales staff, who had been describing the system as “self-driving.”

“The impression they give everyone is that this is self-driving, this isn’t assisted driving,” he said.

A Tesla spokeswoman has disagreed with Luo on the cause of the crash.

“The driver of the Tesla, whose hands were not detected on the steering wheel, did not steer to avoid the parked car and instead scraped against its side,” the spokeswoman said in an emailed response to Reuters. “As clearly communicated to the driver in the vehicle, autosteer is an assist feature that requires the driver to keep his hands on the steering wheel at all times, to always maintain control and responsibility for the vehicle, and to be prepared to take over at any time.”

Reuters interviewed four other Tesla drivers, unconnected to the crash incident, in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. They had similar experiences to Luo, saying that Tesla sales staff made statements that differed from the company’s statement on Autopilot being an advance driver assistance system and not “self-driving.”

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The term “zidong jiashi” appears several times on Tesla’s Chinese website, which is most literally translated to mean “self-driving,” according to Reuters. It’s the term for airplane autopilot, which can add to the confusion for consumers.

“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.

China is still drafting policy on self-driving vehicle technology. Under the current law, drivers are required to keep two hands on the steering wheel at all times. The Ministry of Transportation declined a request for comment with Reuters.

Unsatisfied with how Tesla is handling the crash, Luo has set up his own campaign on social media. He’s posted photos and a video of the crash on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform. Luo also described the incident and criticized the company on the Weibo post.

Luo said he’d been using Autopilot for more than a month. He said that he’d been looking at his phone or the in-car navigation as the crash occurred. He’d only been looking up every few seconds.

“They use this immature technology as a sales and promotion tactic…but they don’t take responsibility for the safety of the function,” Luo said.

Autopilot does have built-in safety features. If a driver hasn’t touch the steering wheel after a set period of time, the system issues a warning. The car will automatically come to a stop if the driver doesn’t comply with the warning.