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Tesla Scrubs Self-Driving Label From Chinese Website After Wreck

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Chris White Tech Reporter
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Tesla Motors removed the words “autopilot” and “self-driving” from a Chinese website after being deluged by complaints about how the automaker advertised its vehicles.

The scrubbing came after a driver, who wrecked his Tesla Model S in Beijing in July, blasted the company for allegedly misrepresenting its autopilot feature.

The driver, Luo Zhen, was not injured in the wreck. He said he was sold on the vehicle because of what he thought was the car’s ability to drive itself.

Tesla, for its part, has consistently said that owners must always be prepared to take control of the vehicle while it the self-driving feature is being applied. The company also noted that it has never sold it as a self-driving vehicle.

“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,” a Tesla spokeswoman said in an email to Reuters.

The spokeswoman added: “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.”

Luo said the salesman who sold him the vehicle never mentioned anything about being alert when the car was in autopilot mode, which, he said, likely contributed to the fender bender.

“Consumers get absolutely no sense of this point when buying the car,” he wrote online after the crash. “The impression they give everyone is that this is self-driving, this isn’t assisted driving.”

Some analysts suggest Chinese consumers are unlikely to distinguish the difference between a system described as “self-driving” and one called “autopilot.”

“China’s way of referring to these technologies is a big problem,” Zhong Shi, an independent automotive analyst in Beijing, told reporters. “Though a similar risk exists for the term Autopilot in the west, Chinese consumers are less likely to read the instruction manual.”

The company has acknowledged the language barriers between China and the U.S.

A spokesman at Tesla told reporters Aug. 19 that the company is “continuously making improvements, including to translations. We’ve been in the process of addressing any discrepancies across languages for many weeks.”

The electric vehicle maker is still reeling after Tesla owner Joshua Brown was killed in June after his vehicle, a Model S, careened into a tractor-trailer on the highway. Tesla said it “immediately” notified the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) about the accident and death, Tesla said in a statement issued June 30.

Brown’s death led analysts to question the safety of the self-driving feature, with some suggesting the feature lulls drivers into a false sense of safety.

“The expectation of Tesla is that the driver is alert and vigilant, ready to take over at a moment’s notice,” Ryan Eustice, a professor of engineering at the University of Michigan tasked with researching Toyota’s autonomous vehicle project, told reporters in July shortly after the Brown incident. “In practice, however, we see that humans quickly become bored and place too much trust in the system. People let down their guard and are not attentive and ready to take over.”

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