Tesla's promotion of Autopilot – its advanced safety and driver technology system – has been labelled "misleading" by a German non-profit organisation taking the electric car maker to court there over its claims.
The Centre for Protection Against Unfair Competition – an association of industry groups working to uphold competition law in Germany – is taking the US electric-car specialist to court, alleging Tesla is promising customers more than it can deliver.
A ruling on the case, which was first filed in October 2019, is expected sometime this week, with the Bloomberg news agency reporting a Munich court indicated last month it may side with the competition group.
If the court sides with the industry not-profit group, Tesla could be required to remove references to Autopilot from its German website.
As part of its filing, the Centre cited "advertising statements" from Tesla's German website such as "Autopilot included", "Full potential for autonomous driving" or "Until the end of the year: ... automatic driving in urban areas", describing them as "misleading" to consumers.
"According to the competition headquarters, this gives the impression that the vehicles advertised in this way could and should drive autonomously by the end of 2019," the Centre stated.
"In fact, these announcements cannot be fulfilled because some of the functions mentioned are not yet legally permitted in Germany ... The consumer could not get a vehicle with the function for, for example, 'automatic driving in town' or 'automatic driving on highways'."
Speaking to Bloomberg, Andreas Ottofuelling, a lawyer for the competition group, said: "A legal framework for autonomous inner-city driving doesn’t even exist yet in Germany... And other functions aren’t working yet as advertised.”
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has previously tweeted about how European regulations on self-driving technology have meant some of the Autopilot features have had to be scaled back in that market.
"We’re aware of extreme consumer unhappiness about this & are working with EU regulators to address," Musk tweeted in September 2019.
Same, except where limited by EU regulations. We’re aware of extreme consumer unhappiness about this & are working with EU regulators to address.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 4, 2019
Similarly, Tesla fans in Europe have petitioned to have the company's Full Self Driving capabilities allowed by regulatory bodies.
European regulations currently impact the extent to which the Autopilot functions can be used.
For example, Tesla's Smart Summon feature – which allows owners to summon their car via smartphone without the need for a driver – has been called "nearly useless" in Europe, as restrictions require the smartphone to be a maximum of only six metres away in order to operate.
First test with Smart Summon in EU, nearly useless here but encouraging! #tesla #smartsummon @bobjouy @Model3Owners @Tesla @vincent13031925 @Teslarati @LikeTeslaKim @tesletter @elonmusk pic.twitter.com/0yv9rEJ8rC— Stéphane Rodrigues (@stban_aceituna) December 28, 2019
In July 2020, Musk said Tesla was "very close to level five autonomy" in its cars, adding that its vehicles already possess the hardware required to implement this capability.
"I remain confident that we will have the basic functionality for level five autonomy complete this year," Musk said. "I'm absolutely confident that this can be accomplished with the hardware that is in the Teslas today."
On its Australian website, Tesla cautions that its current Autopilot features – which are widely considered to offer Level Two autonomy – "require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous".
"Autopilot advanced safety and convenience features are designed to assist you with the most burdensome parts of driving. Autopilot introduces new features and improves existing functionality to make your Tesla safer and more capable over time," Tesla says.
Autopilot can currently steer, accelerate and brake automatically, using eight surround cameras with 360 degrees of visibility and up to 250 metres of range, plus 12 ultrasonic sensors, a forward-facing radar and an onboard computer for vision, sonar and radar processing software.
"Together, this system provides a view of the world that a driver alone cannot access, seeing in every direction simultaneously, and on wavelengths that go far beyond the human senses," Tesla claims.