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Federal inquiry targets Elon Musk's forward-looking claims on Autopilot capabilities

Model 3 on Autopilot (image: Tesla)
Model 3 on Autopilot (image: Tesla)
The veracity of Elon Musk's self-driving Tesla car statements is now being examined by the Security and Exchange Commission in a potentially criminal investigation. The SEC move comes hot on the heels of several other federal and state probes into Tesla's Autopilot ability and its marketing.

The Securities and Exchange Commission is reportedly investigating the veracity of some of the numerous statements that Elon Musk has made on the self-driving capabilities of Tesla's vehicles. It is not clear which of Musk's tweets, interviews, or press conferences for investors may have been targeted, but the SEC piles another probe on the already high stack of Autopilot investigations.

A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration probe, for instance, recently may have concluded that a Model S which caused an 8-vehicle pileup in the Bay Bridge tunnel over Thanksgiving, has had its self-driving technology active at least 30 seconds before the crash. Since the driver is required to supervise their Tesla at all times, even when using Autopilot or its paid FSD Beta upgrade, there are both federal and state agency investigations open for misleading marketing of the software as self-driving and even for the name Autopilot itself as being deceptive.

Elon Musk has stated numerous times that the future of Tesla hinges on the performance of its autonomous driving software and services and their perceived technical superiority in the eye of prospective buyers. As recently as the last earnings call with investors this week, Elon Musk repeated some of those claims:  

The trend is very strong towards use of FSD. And as you alluded to, with each incremental improvement, the enthusiasm obviously increases. And so, I think something that still a lot of people out there don't quite appreciate is that Tesla of course say like, Tesla is as much as a software company as a hardware company, but Tesla is really one of the world's leading AI companies. This is kind of a big deal with AI on the software side and on the hardware side.

Elon Musk also reiterated the safety statements about Tesla's self-driving solution by saying "we would not have released the FSD Beta if the safety statistics were not excellent" because Tesla already has data from "about 100 million miles of FSD outside of highways" that makes it confident about its abilities.

It seems that the SEC investigation against Elon Musk may be targeting exactly statements like these as potentially unfair to investors and shareholders, since the Tesla CEO may have led them to believe that it offers a feature no other automaker can replicate as a future steady revenue stream. 

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Bloomberg (paywall)

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> Expert Reviews and News on Laptops, Smartphones and Tech Innovations > News > News Archive > Newsarchive 2023 01 > Federal inquiry targets Elon Musk's forward-looking claims on Autopilot capabilities
Daniel Zlatev, 2023-01-28 (Update: 2023-01-28)