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First Autopilot Crash in China

In a Reuters report, Luo Zhen of Beijing shared that his vehicle, a Tesla Motors Model S sedan engaged in its Autopilot mode, hit a car parked on the left side of a highway which damaged both vehicles. Fortunately, no one was harmed from the collision.

The crash resulted into Luo’s Tesla grazing the side of the parked car, knocking off a side mirror and scraping both cars.

This would be the first known Tesla autopilot-related accident in China, happening months after a mortal crash in Florida which pressured the auto industry executives and regulators to be stricter on automated driving technology laws.

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Luo was driving to work and put his sedan into its autopilot function as he often does on Beijing’s highways, he told Reuters in the interviews. He had filmed the collision with a dashboard camera.

The driver blames the accident on Tesla’s autopilot system and pushed further that the company’s sales staff strongly promoted its system as “self-driving”, exaggerating its real abilities.

“The impression they give everyone is that this is self-driving, this isn’t assisted driving.”

Four other unconnected Tesla drivers in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou who were interviewed also confirmed that the front-line sales staff did not coincide with Tesla’s clarified statements that the autopilot system is an advance driver assistance system, not self-driving.

Tesla on the Beijing Accident

On the other side, Tesla Motors Inc reported that Luo was using the autonomous system incorrectly.

A Tesla spokesperson told Reuters that a problem with what happened is that the driver did not have his hands to avoid the situation. The company clarified this is a condition Tesla requires when using the autopilot system, and has even reminded that the feature is a driving assist and not fully autonomous many times already prior to the incident.

“The driver of the Tesla, whose hands were not detected on the steering wheel, did not steer to avoid the parked car and instead scraped its side,” The automaker said on Wednesday, August 10. “As clearly communicated to the driver in the vehicle, Autosteer is an assist feature that requires the driver to keep his hands on the steering wheel at all times, to always maintain control and responsibility for the vehicle, and to be prepared to take over at any time.”

Tesla also denied claims that it has described its vehicles to clients as self-driving and repeated that drivers must always be prepared to retake control of the wheel. When the Autopilot was first launched, CEO Elon Musk dubbed it as a “beta” system—a test that drivers will still need to be aware and alert.

"We have never described autopilot as an autonomous technology or a 'self-driving car,' and any third-party descriptions to this effect are not accurate," the Tesla spokeswoman claimed.

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Misconceptions

However, both media sources Reuters and Financial Times attribute the misunderstanding of the autopilot’s capabilities on how it is translated in Chinese: “zidong jihashi,” a term typically used for airplane autopilot, and Reuters says it also translates to “self-driving.”

A Beijing automotive analyst, Zhong Shi, clarified to Financial Times that the term “wuren jihashi” is more commonly used to describe a “self-driving” system. Regardless, China does not have the clearest terminology for autonomous and semi-autonomous automotive technology.

Even without the mistranslation issue, several groups have called out on how clearly Tesla elaborates its Autopilot system capabilities. Consumer Reports, after the Florida crash, voiced out that Tesla should change its name of the technology to avoid misunderstanding. Tesla, however, is committed to Autopilot despite the setbacks.

As of 07:49 AM GMT, shares for Tesla are down 1.50% to 225.65.

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