Autopilot Doesn't Belong on the Road

Alexander Boulden

Updated June 18, 2024

I saw a Cybertruck in the wild last week.

It actually looked pretty cool. Very futuristic, like something out of Star Wars or Star Trek. At the same time, it looked ugly as all get-out.

It turned heads and people were snapping photos of it.

I was only able to get this one…

cybertruck

I couldn’t see the driver, but I wonder if it was on autopilot…

If you’ll remember, at the end of last year, more than 2 million Teslas were recalled because of a software issue with the company’s famed Autopilot system.

That was just shy of the total number of cars Tesla has sold… ever.

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It was the largest recall by the EV maker to date.

The official recall stated, “In certain circumstances when Autosteer is engaged, the prominence and scope of the feature’s controls may not be sufficient to prevent driver misuse of the SAE Level 2 advanced driver-assistance feature.”

It basically said that the Autopilot system wasn’t as good as it was marketed to be. You shouldn’t let the car steer unsupervised… which was always kind of the point of Autopilot.

It’s also something Elon Musk himself has touted as a key feature of the cars.

I mean, when you order a Tesla online, you have to pay an extra $12,000 for its “full self-driving capability,” for crying out loud!

However, now there’s a new disclaimer attached, saying, “The currently enabled features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous. The activation and use of these features are dependent on achieving reliability far in excess of human drivers as demonstrated by billions of miles of experience, as well as regulatory approval, which may take longer in some jurisdictions. As these self-driving features evolve, your car will be continuously upgraded through over-the-air software updates.”

I.e., when more people die, we’ll update the software.

The recall continued, “As mentioned, the remedy will incorporate additional controls and alerts to those already existing on affected vehicles to further encourage the driver to adhere to their continuous driving responsibility whenever Autosteer is engaged, which includes keeping their hands on the steering wheel and paying attention to the roadway.”

All this rhetoric puts the blame on the driver.

That’s definitely a far cry from what Musk was marketing in the past…

So it’s making a lot of people wonder…

What the heck is going on over at Tesla?

A Fatal Error

We started seeing a lot of reports at the tail end of last year that Teslas were crashing apparently due to faulty Autopilot systems.

Car and Driver reported last June that Tesla’s Autopilot was involved in 736 crashes since 2019.

And that number continues to climb.

Last October, a video was released out of Florida showing a Tesla T-boning a semi truck, which killed the Tesla driver instantly.

The Washington Post wrote recently that, “At least eight fatal or serious Tesla crashes occurred on roads where Autopilot should not have been enabled in the first place… in spite of federal officials calling for restrictions.”

Forbes reported that Tesla has the highest accident rate of any auto brand.

It’s not hard to see why.

Tesla drivers have gained a reputation as being some of the worst on the road.

Maybe it’s the oversized and distracting iPad-like thing right in your face.

Maybe it’s that you can’t hear the damn things coming.

Maybe it’s that people aren’t used to driving a glorified, souped-up golf cart on the road.

Maybe it’s the sense of entitlement.

Either way, something’s got to give.

Cracking Eggs

Which brings up another question…

Did Elon Musk overpromise and underdeliver with Tesla’s Autopilot and boost company profits and the share price in the process?

It’s a question a recent Rolling Stone article tries to unpack.

Here’s what caught my eye:

Out of all the scandals over the last decade or so of venture capital-fueled excess, Tesla’s dangerous and hype-happy approach to driving automation technology has been one of the most important but also one of the most hidden in plain sight. Just like the Mechanical Turk of 1770, everyone has been so focused on the technology itself that they’ve missed the human factors that power the entire spectacle. Just as worryingly, regulators have missed that forcing humans to babysit incomplete systems introduces entirely new risks to public roads…

By telling its customers its cars are almost self-driving and designing them without guardrails, Tesla induces inattention only to blame the victim…

Tesla created a technology that automates the major controls of the car but leaves the human driver legally in charge. A lack of driver monitoring, systems to keep the human with legal and ultimate safety responsibility engaged, was a key missing piece.

Going back to the recall notice stated above, the company truly does blame the driver for these issues, saying that all along it was never intended to be used without the driver actually driving the car.

It seems, then, that buying the advanced Autopilot system is a waste of money or a way to drum up hype to raise the stock price, which this Rolling Stone article argues is exactly what Musk did. The article continues, “Despite the reported deaths and clear evidence that the only video of a driverless Tesla was heavily staged, even Musk admits that his hype around self-driving technology has been the central factor in the recent growth of his wealth to titanic proportions.”

It certainly hasn’t hurt his wealth, that’s for sure.

And look, we all know that in order to make an omelet, you’ve got to crack a few eggs.

But when those eggs are human lives, it’s not a good look for the brand.

Tesla will continue to fight tooth and nail not to admit guilt in these faulty Autopilot systems, because once they give in legally, consumers will realize they got duped, which will hurt future sales and therefore the stock price.

Autopilot is the future in some spaces, but maybe not on our roads…

One area where autopilot is already being used right now with great success is in the skies, with military drones and even fighter jets.

The DOD, Pentagon, and White House are all-in on this new tech that will save American lives because we won’t have to risk putting our pilots into danger zones.

Billions are pouring in…

And one tiny firm is behind it all…

Get the full story here.

Stay frosty,

Alexander Boulden
Editor, Wealth Daily

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After Alexander’s passion for economics and investing drew him to one of the largest financial publishers in the world, where he rubbed elbows with former Chicago Board Options Exchange floor traders, Wall Street hedge fund managers, and International Monetary Fund analysts, he decided to take up the pen and guide others through this new age of investing.

Alexander is the investment director of Insider Stakeout — a weekly investment advisory service dedicated to tracking the smartest money on the planet so that his readers can achieve life-altering, market-beating returns. He also serves at the managing editor for R.I.C.H. Report, a comprehensive service that uses the highest-quality investment research and strategies that guides its members in growing their wealth on top of preserving it.

Check out his editor’s page here.

Want to hear more from Alexander? Sign up to receive emails directly from him ranging from market commentaries to opportunities that he has his eye on. 

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