Your Regular Reminder That Fully Self-Driving Cars Don't Exist Yet

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
your regular reminder that fully self driving cars don t exist yet

While we’re on the subject of Super Bowl commercials, there wasn’t just one, but two, that irritated me on Sunday.

This one has little, if anything, to do with politics, so you can relax and cancel out that angry email you were about to send me.

Nope, this one has to do with the misinformation circulating about autonomous cars.

Nick Jonas, of Jonas Brothers fame, was the spokesman for a spot for Dexcom, a medical-device maker. And in the spot, he said “we’ve got self-driving cars” as he talked about modern technology. The camera cuts to a man riding in a self-driving car, looking relaxed, hands off the wheel.

Nick, I realize you may have been reading from a script and didn’t know this, but we don’t have self-driving cars. At least not yet.

You cannot, as of right now, buy a fully self-driving car from ANY make. No matter what Tesla CEO Elon Musk says about Tesla’s AutoPilot and Full-Self Driving systems. There are test units out there, but nothing that you can buy.

There are, of course, cars that offer some partial self-driving. Like the aforementioned Tesla systems and GM’s SuperCruise. There are plenty of other driver-assist systems that have limited autonomy – systems that might steer you back into your lane if your hands aren’t on the wheel, for example.

But every system on the market today, including AutoPilot and SuperCruise, requires the driver to be ready to take over a moment’s notice and still be focused on the road.

There are five levels of autonomy, with level 5 being full self-driving. Our “best” systems available today are level 2. That includes SuperCruise – which can only be used on certain roads – and AutoPilot. Tesla’s FSD system is in beta testing and there’s some uncertainty over whether it’s level 2 or 3. Musk claims it will be level 5 by the end of this year. We’re skeptical.

You might think a throwaway line in an ad that isn’t about cars doesn’t matter when it comes to discussing autonomous technology. Clearly, the producers of the spot don’t think it does. That is, if they even knew we don’t actually have self-driving cars.

That is exactly the problem. Non-car people mistakenly believe that some cars can drive themselves, and that’s dangerous. All it takes is one Tesla driver who doesn’t understand his car’s tech and you can have a nasty, potentially fatal, vehicle accident.

Musk has been called out for over-selling his cars’ abilities, but it’s not just one pitchman’s fault. Nuance has been lost in the discussion. I bet the average man on the street doesn’t even know there are levels of autonomy.

So when an incredibly famous pop star says off-hand that we have self-driving cars in an ad seen by millions and millions of people during the biggest sporting event of the year, that falsehood can spread unchecked. Not to mention that the ad will be in rotation for a while, further spreading an untruth.

That makes it easy to envision a scenario in which an unscrupulous car salesman oversells the self-driving capabilities of, oh say, Nissan ProPilot, and some poor Rogue driver finds out the hard way that her car can’t drive itself.

Getting this terminology correct matters. When Liberty Mutual couldn’t talk accurately about torque in an ad a few years ago it was harmless. Laughable. “Oh, those idiots couldn’t take two seconds to Google what torque is, haha”.

But when it comes to consumer confusion about an emerging technology – confusion that could lead to safety issues – those with a platform have a responsibility to get it right.

Next time, Dexcom, pick another piece of amazing tech to make your point. May I suggest those self-cleaning cat-litter boxes?

As for everyone else, there are no full self-driving cars for sale today. Not from Tesla, Cadillac, or anyone else. And there won’t be for a while.

Stop saying there are.

[Image: Screenshot via YouTube]

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  • El scotto Never mind that that F-1 is a bigger circus than EBFlex and Tassos shopping together for their new BDSM outfits and personal lubricants. Also, the F1 rumor mill churns more than EBFlex's mind choosing a new Sharpie to make his next "Free Candy" sign for his white Ram work van. GM will spend a year or two learning how things work in F1. By the third or fourth year GM will have a competitive "F-1 LS" engine. After they win a race or two Ferrari will protest to highest F-1 authorities. Something not mentioned: Will GM get tens of millions of dollars from F-1? Ferrari gets 30 million a year as a participation trophy.
  • El scotto None of them. The auto industry is full of people with huge egos. It's a case of huge ego = never ever being wrong.GM: The true believers end up at Bowling Green. A fast rising GM executive that just didn't quite make it: Truck & Bus, Fort Wayne isn't really that far from Detroit!Ford: Billy Ford once again, and it seems perpetually, convincing his doubtful relatives not to sell their preferred stock. I give VW a 50/50 shot at buying out Ford; a family buying out another family.Tesla: Straight from Elon: "My Tesla has hidden compartments for handcuffs, ask my latest girlfriend where they're located"Stellantis: Get used to flying to Schiphol. You'll have luggage, lots of luggage.None of the Big 3 will ever admit they were wrong. Tesla will just keep gaining market share.
  • SCE to AUX A question nobody asks is how Tesla sells so many EVs without charge-at-home incentives.Here are some options for you:[list][*]Tesla drivers don't charge at home; they just squat at Superchargers.[/*][*]Tesla drivers are rich, so they just pay for a $2000 charger installation with the loose change in their pocket.[/*][*]Tesla drivers don't actually drive their cars much; they plug into 110V and only manage about 32 miles/day.[/*][/list]
  • SCE to AUX "Despite the EV segment having enjoyed steady growth over the past several years, sales volumes have remained flatter through 2023."Not so. How can EV sales be increasing and flatter at the same time? and H/K/G are all up for EV sales, as are several other brands.
  • ToolGuy Here is an interesting graphic, if you're into that sort of thing.