Consumer Reports wants Tesla to change Autopilot name, function

Just saying it's 'beta' isn't good enough, CR says.

The pressure against Tesla's Autopilot feature has been mounting since it was revealed that Tesla Model S owner Joshua Brown died while using the autonomous driving technology. Both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Securities and Exchange Commission have opened investigations. Today, Consumer Reports called for Tesla to disable the Autosteer function in its vehicles until it can be reprogrammed to require drivers to keep their hands on the wheel.

Autosteer is part of the Autopilot system. The Autopilot system is labeled as a beta, though Tesla CEO Elon Musk claims that the word "beta" isn't used in the traditional sense. He says it's there to remind drivers that the system isn't perfect. Musk claims that Tesla will need one billion miles of Autopilot data to remove the beta label.
Because of the disconnect between what the name implies and what some owners take away, Consumer Reports is asking that Tesla rename Autopilot with something more descriptive and accurate. It wants Tesla to issue clearer guidance on what the system does and how it functions. Finally, it wants Tesla to remove any beta systems from their vehicles. The publication says that consumers shouldn't be public test beds for new technologies like Autopilot.

The publication says that the name Autopilot, despite the beta label, gives drivers a false sense of security. In a response to Consumer Reports, Tesla said that it won't be changing anything. It says that internal and real-world testing has proven that the system works and that speculation by the media will not influence their decisions. Musk has said that Tesla will not be removing the Autopilot feature.

Consumer Reports has had a long and arduous history with Tesla. The publication has owned three Teslas and has had quite a few problems with reliability. Tesla's response will obviously do nothing to improve its reputation within the testing organization.

Despite Musk and Tesla continuously defending their product, there seems to be a wide divide between what the company is claiming and what consumers are understanding. If it labels the system as "beta," consumers should expect the word is used in the traditional sense, not as a simple warning. It doesn't matter how much Tesla and Musk defend themselves if there is still not a proper understanding between the company and its customers.

There is also a risk that the company's eagerness to release its products before they're fully baked will hurt other automakers attempting to bring autonomous vehicles to the market. If there is a sense of distrust in consumers, adoption may be slow. If there are more incidents involving injury or death, the government may step in and slow the rate of introduction. Tesla has a habit of showing off, and sooner or later that hubris is going to bite.

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