German court overturns ‘Tesla Autopilot’ marketing ban

Tesla Autopilot used in Germany. Photo by Zach Shahan | Clean Technica.

The brief update on a case that dates back to 2019 is that an appeals court overturned a 2019 regional court ruling that determined Tesla couldn’t use the term “autopilot” on its website. and in other marketing materials in Germany. In other words, Tesla is indeed allowed to use the term “autopilot” on its website and in other marketing materials in Germany. This would be a final decision.

There are a series of arguments as to why Tesla should be allowed to use the term autopilot for its semi-autonomous driving features, and there are a series of arguments as to why it shouldn’t. Personally, I’m on the side of the former, but I’ll cover them both below before returning to the news and a similar case in the United States.

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Tesla Autopilot with “Full Self Driving” suite in action stopping at a stop sign. Photo by Zach Shahan | Clean Technica.

As for why Tesla Autopilot is completely legit and fine-grained terminology for Tesla’s ADAS (advanced driver assistance system) features, the arguments are as follows:

  • Autopilot, as used in the aviation world, does not allow pilots to simply fall asleep or put on a movie and stop watching what is happening. (Notably, Elon Musk has a pilot’s license and used to fly a jet — plus, he founded and is CEO of SpaceX — so he has extensive real-world tech experience.)
  • Nowhere does Tesla say that Autopilot can completely drive a person or that drivers don’t need to be careful.
  • In fact, there are plenty of notifications and warnings of all kinds that tell drivers to stay alert, watch the road and the car, and take over from autopilot whenever necessary; and which also inform the driver that he is entirely responsible for driving the car.
  • Additional Autopilot features cost several thousand dollars, and the “Full Self Driving” suite now costs $12,000. To assume that people would buy these extra features and not know what they can and cannot do is a bit of a crazy assumption.

Taking all these points together, I don’t see the problem with the term “Tesla Autopilot”, and I think it makes sense that the appeal court judge in Germany came to the same conclusion.

Arguments on the other side include the following:

  • Autodriver” makes the car feel like it drives completely autonomously, and some people may assume they can fall asleep, watch a movie, or just not pay attention to the road.
  • Much hype around future fully self-driving Tesla cars and even robotaxis may lead some consumers to believe that these exist today. (Again, I really find this bends the imagination way too far.)
  • Some people posted videos on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, reddit, etc. of themselves or others sleeping while Teslas drive, sit in the back, or do other ridiculous things.

I know a lot of people are on both sides of this question, but honestly, I have a hard time seeing the last set of arguments as sensible as the first.

Screenshot from Tesla’s late 2020 shareholder meeting showing a slide from Autopilot.

The term “Full Self Driving” (FSD) is a bit different. Naturally, this means… fully autonomous driving. However, the interest of the sequel is that it ultimately to be able to provide fully autonomous driving once the software reaches that level, and I think anyone who buys it knows (or should know) that Teslas is not capable of performing fully self-driving or robotaxi service at this point. The only thing about it that the judge in that case in Germany would have sided with criticism was that Tesla couldn’t say on its website that additional FSD features would be “by the end of the year” (with the year in the original case being 2019). Instead, Tesla has been using the phrase “in the near future” for some time now – which seems more sensible anyway given that Tesla has struggled to predict when it will roll out new features.

This is the story in Germany. As we recently reported, there is now a similar case in California. The California DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) has disputed that the terms “Autopilot” and “Full Self Driving” are false advertising. If the court agrees, Tesla’s license to produce and sell vehicles in the state of California could even be revoked. Considering Tesla’s factory in Fremont, Calif., produces a large chunk of the company’s cars day in and day out and month in, month out, that sort of conclusion would be a blow to the company. I don’t see the case ending this way for several reasons, not the least of which is that this would be a truly harmful and nonsensical answer to a pedantic ADAS terminology question.

It should also be noted that there is no uniform terminology for ADAS technology in the industry, other automakers use all sorts of creative names and claims (including things like ProPILOT and the ” hands-free driving”), and I’ve seen ads from other car manufacturers where the person driving their car doesn’t even have their hands on the wheel. This is such a gray area with such vague language and ambitious marketing that it seems dishonest to “suppress” a single company. Potentially, it could be useful to establish industry-wide terminology for certain features (such as “automatic lane keeping” and “adaptive cruise control” and “automatic lane change” and “full drive”). autonomous “). However, without this, as long as a car manufacturer provides adequate warnings, disclosures and attempts to ensure that drivers are well aware of their responsibilities in relation to those of the car, I consider cases like these- these are mostly useless and sometimes very counterproductive.

On the positive side, one could say that in response to cases and concerns like these, Tesla has added numerous disclosures and warnings over the years to its website and in its cars, which has encouraged more people not to abuse the company’s ADAS functionality. . Perhaps fewer people are willing to engage in “sleep” and “rear-end driving” stunts due to the deluge of disclosures and warnings added by Tesla. Maybe.

As always, I’m curious to hear your perspective on the matter. Also, if I missed any important facts about these cases or about Tesla’s semi-autonomous driving technology, please feel free to point out the omissions.


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James R. Rhodes