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Tesla to Germany: Our Owners Understand Autopilot Just Fine, Thank You

Tesla Motors Inc. Tests Self-Driving TechnologyTesla Motors Inc. Tests Self-Driving Technology
An employee drives a Tesla Motors Inc. Model S electric automobile, equipped with Autopilot hardware and software.Photograph by Bloomberg — Getty Images

Tesla says 98% of surveyed customers in Germany understand the function and limitations of its semi-autonomous driving Autopilot feature, a response to German regulators who have called the name misleading and pressured the automaker to change it.

Tesla released Thursday the results of an online survey conducted by puls Marktforschung. The survey asked Tesla owners seven questions about Autopilot, including if the driver has ever used the feature and if they’re familiar with the car warnings that show how it should be used. The survey sample of 675 Tesla owners in Germany found the vast majority of users understand the driver is expected to maintain control of the vehicle at all times.

Tesla’s Autopilot feature, which rolled out in October via an over-the-air software update, helps drivers steer and stay in line on highways. The intention is to assist the driver, not take over all functions of operating a vehicle.

Tesla published a curt response and a link to the survey in a blog post.

In response to Germany’s Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt (KBA)’s suggestion that using the name “Autopilot” is misleading, we worked with a third-party to survey Tesla owners in Germany to better understand how they perceive Autopilot.

98% of customers surveyed said they understand that when using Autopilot, the driver is expected to maintain control of the vehicle at all times.

Tesla had a third-party company conduct the survey in response to increasing pressure from KBA.

In October, the head of Germany’s transportation agency asked the U.S. automaker to stop advertising its electric vehicles as having an Autopilot function because it might suggest drivers’ attention is not needed. Germany’s Federal Motor Transport Authority, known as the KBA, sent a letter to Tesla with the request.

The KBA has also sent letters to owners of Tesla vehicles in Germany warning that the use of Autopilot requires unrestricted attention at all times. The letter, which was sent out in October, told owners the Autopilot function is a driver assistance system and not a highly-automated vehicle. The letter also emphasized that German traffic laws require the driver to remain alert and in control of the vehicle at all times when using the system.

The KBA is also conducting studies into the Autopilot function to determine if it’s a safety hazard.

The first-ever fatality of a driver using the Autopilot system, which occurred in the U.S. this spring, has raised concerns among some regulators. However, Tesla has taken steps to improve the system. In September, Tesla announced it would use radar as the primary sensor for its’ Autopilot systems. In the past, radar only supplemented the camera-based detection system.