Some analysts say that Tesla main problem is not the regulators but the software itself, given the complexity of autonomous driving.
Tesla Inc.’s advanced driver assistance software won’t get regulatory approval in 2022, CEO Elon Musk said in remarks indicating the company still can’t convince authorities its cars can be driven without someone behind the wheel. .
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The Silicon Valley automaker sells a $15,000 software add-on called “Full Self-Driving” (FSD) that allows its vehicles to change lanes and park autonomously. That complements its standard “autopilot” feature that allows cars to steer, accelerate and brake within their lanes without driver input.
However, the cars still need to be driven with human supervision. A fully autonomous vehicle would require regulatory approval.
Musk said in a post-earnings call Wednesday that all FSD users in North America will get an upgraded version by the end of the year, adding that while his cars aren’t quite ready to have anyone behind the wheel, drivers they will rarely have to touch the controls
“The car will be able to take you from your house to your job, to your friend’s house, to the grocery store without you touching the wheel,” he said.
“Whether it will get regulatory approval is a separate issue. It won’t get regulatory approval at that time,” he added.
Musk also said that Tesla hopes to provide an FSD update in 2023 to show regulators that the car is much safer than the average human.
“Musk is opening up the possibility that Tesla will have a tougher path to FSD approval given the increased scrutiny from NHTSA and others,” said Craig Irwin, an analyst at Roth Capital.
Auto safety regulators have long been at odds with Tesla over its partially automated driving systems. Since 2016, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has opened 38 special investigations into accidents involving Tesla vehicles that have resulted in 19 deaths, looking at whether software was a factor.
“Translation: Tensions between NHTSA and Tesla will escalate by the end of the year and Tesla will move forward,” said Gene Munster, managing partner at venture capital firm Loup Ventures, which owns Tesla stock.
The Tesla name of its software has also caused consternation, with the automaker accused by a California state transportation regulator of false advertising as the features don’t provide full autonomous control of the vehicle.
Tesla’s website says both technologies “require active driver supervision,” with a “fully attentive” driver whose hands are on the wheel, “and do not make the vehicle autonomous.”
However, some analysts say that Tesla’s main problem is not the regulators but the software itself, given the complexity of autonomous driving.
“The impediment is technology. This is not about endorsing that technology,” said Bryant Walker Smith, a law professor at the University of South Carolina.
Tesla has repeatedly missed self-imposed goals for its vehicles to achieve full self-driving capability, a feature that Musk says will eventually become “the most important source of profitability for Tesla.”