Tesla Ordered To Refund Customer Over Autopilot Problems

Tesla suffers what could be a significant legal setback in Germany, after a court in Munich orders it to refund a customer over problems with the Autopilot system.

Reuters, citing Der Spiegel, reported a customer in Germany had in December 2016 paid 112,000 euros ($114,000) for a Model X SUV, but she complained of ‘problems’ with the Autopilot function.

On top of the purchase cost, she paid an extra 5,500 euros ($5,580) for the Autopilot feature, and the SUV was delivered to her in March 2017.

Image credit: Tesla

Autopilot fine

But there were apparently repeated problems with Autopilot, and the court upheld the woman’s complaint that the car’s Autopilot was defective.

The Munich court ordered Tesla to reimburse the customer $101,000, after a technical report showed the vehicle did not reliably recognise obstacles and would at times activate the brakes unnecessarily.

This could cause a “massive hazard” in city traffic and lead to collisions, the court reportedly ruled.

Der Spiegel reported that the Tesla lawyers had argued Autopilot was not designed for city traffic.

But the court said it was not feasible for drivers to manually switch the feature on and off in different settings as it would distract from driving.

Tesla was not immediately available for comment and declined to comment to Der Spiegel.

The judgement also upheld other complaints from the woman about the car, for example that its doors didn’t open and shut properly.

This is the second piece of bad news for Tesla’s Autopilot within the past few days, after Andrej Karpathy, Tesla’s Director of AI and the leader of the Autopilot Vision team, last week announced he had resigned from the firm.

Karpathy had led a team of senior machine learning scientists and engineers, all of whom reported directly to Karpathy.

Federal investigation

The German court case does set a worrying precedent for Tesla, which is under close regulatory scrutiny over its Autopilot feature in the US.

Last month the Federal vehicle safety regulator in the US (NHTSA) said it was upgrading its investigation of Tesla’s Autopilot driving assistance system – the step taken before the agency determines a recall.

Musk has aggressively hyped Tesla’s driver assistance system (Autopilot) and self-driving technology (FSB) for years now.

In July 2020, Elon Musk said that Tesla was “very close” to achieving level 5 autonomous driving technology.

Level 5 is the holy grail of autonomous driving technology, as level 5 vehicles will not require human intervention, and need for a human drivers is eliminated.

Indeed, it is said that level 5 cars won’t even have steering wheels or acceleration/braking pedals.

These cars will be free from geofencing, and will be able to drive anywhere, and do anything that normal car with a human driver can do.

Tesla cars currently operate at a level-two, which requires the driver to remain alert and ready to steer, with hands on the wheel.

Musk said in March that Tesla is likely to launch a test version of its new “Full Self-Driving” software in Europe later this year, depending on regulatory approval.

“It’s quite difficult to do full self-driving in Europe,” he was quoted by Reuters as telling workers at Berlin factory at the time, saying much work needs to be done to handle tricky driving situations in Europe where roads vary a lot by country.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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