Update: Tesla has responded to our request for comment with regards to its views on the request made by the German Transport Authority to stop using the term Autopilot when advertising its cars.
A Tesla spokesperson said, "Tesla’s Autopilot operates in conjunction with the human driver to make driving safer and less stressful. This is how the term has been used for decades in aerospace: to denote a support system that operates under the direct supervision of a human pilot.
"We have always been clear with our customers that Autopilot is a driver assistance system that requires the driver to pay attention at all times, similar to driver assistance systems from other manufacturers. Just as in an airplane, when used properly, Autopilot reduces driver workload and provides an added layer of safety when compared to purely manual driving.
"We have great faith in our German customers and are not aware of any who have misunderstood the meaning, but would be happy to conduct a survey to assess this."
It appears from this statement that Tesla has no immediate plan to comply with Germany's request.
Tesla has decided to postpone the announcement of a mysterious new product that was expected to take place today.
In a tweet, the company’s CEO, Elon Musk, said that the announcement will now take place on Wednesday October 19 as the product needs “a few more days of refinement.”
Moving the Tesla announcement to Wednesday. Needs a few more days of refinement.16 October 2016
It’s still not clear what Tesla is planning to unveil, though the rumour mill isn’t short of suggestions which range from a new car design, to new technology integration, to an update of the existing Autopilot technology.
Tesla’s Autopilot technology is already in the news today after the Federal Motor Transport Authority of Germany (KBA) asked Tesla to stop using the term ‘Autopilot’ when advertising its driver assistance technology. It believes it could mislead drivers with regards to how much attention they should pay to the road.
A spokeswoman for the German Transport Minister confirmed to Reuters that the KBA had indeed written to Tesla, stating, “It can be confirmed that a letter to Tesla exists with the request to no longer use the misleading term Autopilot for the driver assistance system of the car.”
Clarity is key
The KBA’s biggest issue is that whilst Tesla’s semi-autonomous technology requires the driver of a car to be engaged and concentrating on the road at all times, its use of the term Autopilot could be interpreted to suggest otherwise.
Tesla’s Autopilot feature and its name have recently come under particular scrutiny following a fatal crash in Florida where the driver had the technology activated.
Germany is not alone in its wariness of misleading advertising terms. After the Tesla crash, American consumer groups criticised Tesla’s use of the name Autopilot, also highlighting that it could be considered misleading for the average consumer.
In response to these concerns, California's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has released a revision of draft regulations which, if passed, will ban the use of phrases such as “self-driving” or “autonomous” in advertising for all semi-autonomous vehicles, not just those manufactured by Tesla.
According to Reuters, the KBA has also contacted German Tesla owners to warn them that when using the Autopilot function, they must remain alert and focused on the road at all times.
Following the May crash, Tesla posted to its official blog that the Autopilot feature did have safety checks and balances built in which include a reminder that the driver has to pay attention to the road at all times and visual and audio alerts which are triggered when the driver’s hands leave the steering wheel.
Despite this, Tesla’s use of the name Autopilot does still face scrutiny particularly as the official automotive industry definition of the term doesn’t quite match up to its colloquial use.