Tesla Defends Use of ‘Autopilot’ and ‘Self-Driving’ Terminology Amidst California Regulatory Challenge

Tesla maintained that it had relied upon the DMV's implied approval of these branding choices.

Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) has come to its own defense, asserting that its use of “Autopilot” and “self-driving” terminology for its driver assistance features was implicitly sanctioned by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) due to the lack of prior regulatory action.

In the midst of an ongoing dispute with California’s DMV, Tesla, led by billionaire Elon Musk, has been accused of falsely advertising its Autopilot and Full Self-Driving features as providing full autonomous vehicle control.

The DMV has raised concerns and is considering potential remedies, including the suspension of Tesla’s license to sell vehicles in California, which is Tesla’s largest U.S. market, as well as requiring the company to compensate affected drivers.

Tesla, in a filing dated December 5 and recently disclosed by the state, cited previous interactions with the DMV to support its stance.

The company argued that the DMV had already investigated its use of the Autopilot brand back in 2014 and reviewed various phrases, including “self-driving,” in 2017.

During these prior investigations, the DMV took no action against Tesla and did not indicate any issues with the terminology employed.

Furthermore, Tesla pointed out that in 2016, when the DMV was formulating regulations related to autonomous technology statements, it opted not to ban the use of terms like “self-driving.”

Subsequent legislation also removed a prior prohibition on such terms that had been included in an earlier DMV draft.

Tesla maintained that it had relied upon the DMV’s implied approval of these branding choices.

According to Tesla’s official website, their driver assistance technologies explicitly require active driver supervision, with the driver being fully attentive and hands on the wheel, and they do not render the vehicle autonomous.

The DMV, however, has contended that Tesla’s disclaimers fail to rectify the alleged misleading nature of the original advertising and claims, characterizing them as contradictory.

The dispute continues to unfold as both sides present their arguments regarding the appropriateness of Tesla’s marketing of its driver assistance features.