By on January 21, 2020

Following confirmation from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that it will look into a petition calling on the agency to formally investigate 500,000 Tesla vehicles over reports of unintended acceleration, the automaker took to the internet to defend itself.

On Monday, Tesla issued a blog post to say the allegations against it are wrong. It believes claims of unintended acceleration are erroneous, pushed by someone hoping to scoop up Tesla shares at a lower price so they can be swiftly flipped.

The short-seller defense is a popular one with CEO Elon Musk. He’s previously called short sellers “value destroyers,” repeatedly suggesting that the practice should be made illegal. But it’s also in his interest to keep Tesla’s stock ludicrously high, which it is. Despite being several times smaller than either General Motors or Ford, Tesla’s market worth has surpassed their combined value. 

While that should give the company little to complain about, it also makes it an attractive target for short sellers. Tesla’s market summary is loaded with peaks and valleys, but it always seems to climb in the end. Shorts looking to stop the manufacturer’s latest good stretch could have fabricated the petition in order to jump back in later at a lower price.

From Tesla:

This petition is completely false and was brought by a Tesla short-seller. We investigate every single incident where the driver alleges to us that their vehicle accelerated contrary to their input, and in every case where we had the vehicle’s data, we confirmed that the car operated as designed. In other words, the car accelerates if, and only if, the driver told it to do so, and it slows or stops when the driver applies the brake.

While accidents caused by a mistaken press of the accelerator pedal have been alleged for nearly every make/model of vehicle on the road, the accelerator pedals in Model S, X and 3 vehicles have two independent position sensors, and if there is any error, the system defaults to cut off motor torque. Likewise, applying the brake pedal simultaneously with the accelerator pedal will override the accelerator pedal input and cut off motor torque, and regardless of the torque, sustained braking will stop the car.

Tesla is undoubtedly trying to cover its rump, but there are reasons to doubt claims of unintended acceleration. Back in 2010, a media storm broke out over Toyotas with a similar problem. While the company ultimately elected to perform a massive recall to inspect the cars’ electronic throttle controls and floor-mat positioning, most deep dives into the situation showed little to no underlying problems unique to Toyota vehicles. And practically all data indicating there may have been a legitimate issue show it on a much narrower scope than the media suspected. Meanwhile, auto journalists were busy blaming old and/or young people for being bad at parking — this outlet surely was.

The truth was elusive, which is why it’s prudent to exercise caution with the claims against Tesla. The NHTSA says it will investigate the claims further, and it should, but Tesla’s “problem” may be more complicated than a technical glitch.

Confusion continues to surround the automaker’s advanced driving aids, specially Autopilot. There’s no shortage of compilation videos showing drivers misusing the system, and Tesla has previously been faulted with overstating its effectiveness. Despite the manufacturer taking steps to mitigate this in recent years, the presumption that these cars can drive themselves has not abated. We still see plenty of people with the hands off the wheel, confident the car can handle whatever the road throws at it.

A portion of the reports the petition uses for ammunition are undoubtedly due to customers not fully understanding the vehicle’s functions. However, there are also numerous instances where Autopilot simply seemed incapable of navigating an exit ramp — or failed to see another vehicle. Again, crashes stemming from these issues are technically the fault of the driver if the claims of unintended acceleration turn out to be mistaken. But that’s still a problem, isn’t it?

Truth be told, we don’t want to give any advanced driving aid too much credit. These systems habitually drop out of service and don’t always behave as expected, regardless of the brand pushing them. That said, we hope the NHTSA provides some closure. Perhaps as a byproduct of this probe, the agency will reexamine advanced driving aids as a whole and address their role in confusing a consequential subset of motorists, even if Tesla itself ends up exonerated.

[Image: JL IMAGES/Shutterstock]

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22 Comments on “Tesla Blames Short Sellers for Recall Petition, Says No Problem Exists...”

  • avatar

    On the topic of unintended acceleration – and only unintended acceleration – I was impressed with the data Tesla had when the original accusations came up. Like, ‘here’s what you did and here’s what the car did and this is how we know.’

    • 0 avatar

      (Had my own self-caused unintended acceleration brush with death tonight. The DeVille I’m working on was missing driver floormat – met for dinner with the owner and swapped the floormat he had with some personal items of his that I had found in the vehicle – quickly threw the floormat in pre-dinner. After dinner the accelerator had a mind of its own – oops!)

  • avatar

    Call the injury hotline, attorneys are waiting to take your call.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Excellent writeup.

    “Perhaps as a byproduct of this probe, the agency will reexamine advanced driving aids as a whole and address their role in confusing a consequential subset of motorists, even if Tesla itself ends up exonerated.”

    This would be the best outcome.

    The short-seller blame game always sounds shrill, even if it is true. But with TSLA currently at $547, the shorts may be getting desperate. I recall a time in the past where several serial NHTSA complaints were lodged against Tesla vehicles by someone who didn’t even one one.

    • 0 avatar

      even Elon himself has said TSLA’s valuation is inappropriate. for some reason investors believe they’re going to make a lot of money on their shares “Real Soon Now.” Not sure how or when.

  • avatar

    Tesla screws up. Musk blames others. In other news, dog bites man.

  • avatar

    Total stonewalling and refusal to address the actual issue: the name “Autopilot” is so deceptive as to be fraudulent. (And don’t bore me with the technical details of what autopilot systems on aircraft do and don’t do. “Autopilot” says something very specific to a general consumer who is not a pilot.)

    • 0 avatar

      but geeks know what aircraft “autopilot” can do, so they think everyone should.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        Maybe in light of that it isn’t all that deceptive. I mean if you watch the news lately you probably think autopilot flies 737s into the ground so driving into the back of a fire truck isn’t too big of a leap.

        • 0 avatar

          I’m sure Teslas were “self driving” flawlessly in testing, enough for Musk to go with that angle. So he took that ball and ran with it.

          So to render them just a (normal) advanced cruise control, and unable to be misused by owners would lose the game for him and Tesla.

          Then what does he tell all the buyers that were mislead? Well that’s his problem and he clearly doesn’t want to go there.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s still such a disconnect with Tesla. Directly from their website:

      “Autopilot enables your car to steer, accelerate and brake automatically within it’s lane. Full Self-Driving Capability…”

      They have some warnings in the car- but if I didn’t frequent sites like this and I read that ad copy, my assumption would be that I could go take a nap.

      • 0 avatar

        A partial quote does have a way of being misleading. Let’s quote the whole section – skip down to the starred part if in a hurry.

        (headline) Autopilot – Included
        Enables your car to steer, accelerate and brake automatically for other vehicles and pedestrians within its lane.

        (headline) Full Self-Driving Capability – $7000
        Navigate on Autopilot: automatic driving from highway on-ramp to off-ramp including interchanges and overtaking slower cars.
        Auto Lane Change: automatic lane changes while driving on the highway.
        Autopark: both parallel and perpendicular spaces.
        Summon: your parked car will come find you anywhere in a parking lot.
        Recognize and respond to traffic lights and stop signs.
        Automatic driving on city streets.
        Includes the Full Self Driving Computer.
        Full Self-Driving Capability is available for purchase post-delivery. Prices are likely to increase over time with new feature releases.

        * 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.

  • avatar

    Self-driving aids need to be regulated to hell and back but that isn’t a Tesla problem….

    • 0 avatar

      That’s part of the problem, They’re not “self-driving” aids and there’s nothing self-driving about them.

      The SAE should not refer to the gadget as “Level 2 Autonomous”. They’re just adding to the confusion.

      It is a Tesla problem since lots more can be programmed/fitted to fully stop Autopilot misuse.

  • avatar

    Ah lying and pointing fingers.

    Truly Musks only real talents.

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