Tesla May Have Committed Securities, Wire Fraud With Autopilot

So folks, it’s looking like U.S. prosecutors’ probe into Tesla and Autopilot will be going well beyond whether the systems actually work or not. Regulators are now looking to see if Elon Musk and Tesla committed securities or wire fraud by misleading investors and customers about the self-driving capabilities of their cars, according to Reuters.

Tesla’s Autopilot and Full Self-Driving systems are currently capable of Level 2 autonomy. That means they can assist with steering, braking and lane changes, but they are not fully autonomous. The Austin, Texas-based automaker has warned drivers to stay ready to take over in case things get hairy, but now the Justice Department is examining contradictory statements by Tesla and CEO Elon Musk that suggest the cars can drive themselves.

Separately, regulators are investigating hundreds of crashes — some of them fatal — that have occurred while Autopilot was engaged. It’s resulted in massive recalls for the EV maker.

Here’s what investigators are looking for at Tesla, according to Reuters:

Investigators are exploring whether Tesla committed wire fraud, which involves deception in interstate communications, by misleading consumers about its driver-assistance systems, the sources said. They are also examining whether Tesla committed securities fraud by deceiving investors, two of the sources said.

The Securities and Exchange Commission is also investigating Tesla’s representations about driver-assistance systems to investors, one of the people said. The SEC declined to comment.

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment. Last October, it disclosed in a filing that the Justice Department had asked the company for information about Autopilot and Full Self-Driving.

The Justice Department declined to comment.

The probe, which is not evidence of wrongdoing, could result in criminal charges, civil sanctions, or no action. Prosecutors are far from deciding how to proceed, one of the sources said, in part because they are sifting through voluminous documents Tesla provided in response to subpoenas.

Reuters could not determine the specific statements prosecutors are reviewing as potentially illegal. Musk has aggressively touted the prowess of Tesla’s driver-assistance technology for nearly a decade.

An archived video from 2016 on Tesla’s website that demonstrates the tech says “The person in the driver’s seat is only there for legal reasons. He is not doing anything. The car is driving itself,” Reuters reports. Here’s the thing, though. That’s just a blatant lie. A Tesla engineer said in 2022 while testifying in a lawsuit over a fatal Autopilot crash that the video was meant to show the tech’s potential in the future. Despite this, Musk posted it on social media proclaiming “Tesla drives itself.”

Here’s more on Musk’s relationship with self-driving vehicles:

In a conference call with reporters in 2016, Musk described Autopilot as “probably better” than a human driver. During an October 2022 call, Musk addressed a forthcoming FSD upgrade he said would allow customers to travel “to your work, your friend’s house, to the grocery store without you touching the wheel.”

Musk is increasingly focused on self-driving technology as Tesla’s car sales and profit slump. Tesla recently slashed costs through mass layoffs and shelved plans for a long-awaited $25,000 model that had been expected to drive sales growth.

“Going balls to the wall for autonomy is a blindingly obvious move,” the billionaire executive posted on his social-media platform X in mid-April. Tesla shares, down more than 28% so far this year, surged in late April when Musk visited China and made progress toward approvals to sell FSD there.

Musk has repeatedly promised self-driving Teslas for about a decade. “Mere failure to realize a long-term, aspirational goal is not fraud,” Tesla lawyers said in a 2022 court filing.

Anyway, you all should head over to Reuters for a more complete breakdown of what’s happening with Tesla and the investigation, as well as the other legal issues the automaker is currently facing.

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