Tesla's auto-pilot blamed for another car crash

Another Tesla car has crashed while driving in 'autopilot' mode on a road in Beijing, but the driver alleges sales staff sold the function as 'self-driving', overplaying its actual capabilities.

Tesla said it had reviewed data to confirm the car was in autopilot mode, a system that takes control of steering and braking in certain conditions.

The company is currently investigating the crash, which happened last week, but said it was the driver's responsibility to maintain control of the vehicle and the driver's hands were not detected on the steering wheel in this case.

The crash is Tesla's first such incident in China and comes just months after a fatal accident in Florida, which turned up pressure on auto industry executives and regulators to tighten rules on automated driving technology. 

The Beijing accident was filmed with a dashboard camera and driver Luo Zhen said his car hit a vehicle parked half off the road. The accident sheared off the parked vehicle's side mirror and scraped both cars, but caused no injuries.

"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 against its side," a Tesla spokesperson said.

"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."

Zhen, however, blamed the crash on a fault in the autopilot system and said Tesla's sales staff strongly promoted the system as 'self-driving'.

"The impression they give everyone is that this is self-driving, this isn't assisted driving," he said.

Interviews with four other unconnected Tesla drivers in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou also indicated the message conveyed by front-line sales staff did not match up with Tesla's more clear cut statements that the system is not ‘self-driving’, but an advance driver assistance system (ADAS).

"They all described it as being able to drive itself," said Shanghai resident Mao Mao, who bought a Tesla Model S last year.

The term "zidong jiashi" appears several times on Tesla's Chinese portal, which is most literally translated to mean "self-driving". It is also the term for airplane autopilot, leaving room for confusion among consumers.

"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 spokesperson said.

Elon Musk, Tesla chief executive, unveiled a ‘master plan’ for his company last month that will see it broaden its product portfolio into electric trucks and buses, car sharing and solar energy systems. 

Soon after, it made a proposal to buy solar power company SolarCity in a bid to shore up its solar energy credentials. 

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