In a recent development, a German news outlet, Handelsblatt, has uncovered a trove of over 23,000 internal files from Tesla, shedding light on a concerning trend of the company allegedly dismissing customer complaints regarding dangerous Autopilot glitches while prioritizing self-preservation. The authenticity of the data was verified by the renowned Fraunhofer Institute for Secure Information Technology, which found no signs of tampering or fabrication.
The documents, obtained through an anonymous informant, contain a wealth of information regarding customer grievances related to Tesla’s Autopilot system. Despite Tesla’s attempts to prevent publication and even threatening legal action against Handelsblatt, the news outlet deemed this situation an extraordinary circumstance that warranted reporting under European Union law.
Among the troubling revelations within the Tesla files, more than 2,400 complaints regarding self-acceleration issues and over 1,500 reports of braking function problems were identified. These included 139 cases of unintentional emergency braking and 383 instances of false collision warnings resulting in phantom stops. The data also indicated over 1,000 crashes. The incidents span from 2015 to March 2022, during which approximately 2.6 million vehicles equipped with Autopilot software were delivered by Tesla.
Revelations from Tesla Files: Global Impact and Customer Complaint Handling Exposed
While the majority of the incidents occurred in the United States, complaints from Tesla drivers in Europe and Asia, including Germany, were also documented in the files. Handelsblatt reached out to numerous customers from various countries, all of whom confirmed the information found within the Tesla files. These customers provided insights into their experiences with the Autopilot system, sharing their communication with the automaker and presenting videos of accidents.
The handling of customer complaints is also illuminated by the Tesla files. They reveal the existence of detailed guidelines for employees on customer communication, with a clear emphasis on minimizing any potential liability or attack surface. Each incident is accompanied by bullet points for a “technical review.” Employees responsible for documenting these reviews repeatedly stress that they are for internal use only. Notably, each entry contains a bold note stating that information should only be communicated verbally to the customer, explicitly discouraging copying and pasting the report into emails, text messages, or voicemails. Vehicle data is not to be disclosed without explicit permission, and if legal involvement cannot be prevented, it must be duly recorded.
Alleged Verbal Communication and Ethical Concerns Amidst Tesla’s Ongoing Controversies
Customers interviewed by Handelsblatt expressed the perception that Tesla employees actively avoid written communication, preferring verbal interactions. A California doctor, whose Tesla allegedly accelerated on its own and collided with two concrete pillars in the autumn of 2021, stated, “They never sent emails, everything was always verbal.” Throughout the investigation, Tesla’s response to customer allegations was consistently evasive, with the company declining to address questions from Handelsblatt. Some affected individuals claimed they either sold their Teslas or attempted to return them to the company, citing ethical concerns about allowing others to drive potentially unsafe vehicles.
These revelations come at a challenging time for Elon Musk and Tesla, with 2022 marked by various controversies. Notably, a 2016 video of a self-driving Tesla was exposed as likely being a hoax, involving Musk’s approval and participation. Multiple lawsuits, ranging from shareholders to the families of crash victims, are set to proceed in court. Additionally, regulatory bodies such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Department of Justice are closing in on the matter.
As Tesla confronts these serious allegations and potential legal consequences, it remains to be seen how the company will address the concerns raised by the extensive data breach. The safety of autonomous driving technologies and the responsibility of automakers to prioritize customer well-being continue to be paramount in the ongoing evolution of the automotive industry.