Tesla and Cruise are under the microscope

January 31, 2023, 7:27 PM UTC
People inspect the Tesla Model 3 as it sits on display at the Los Angeles Auto Show.
Justin L. Stewart—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Hello, it’s Fortune tech fellow Andrea Guzman, filling in for Jacob today. 

Already hit with multiple investigations by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for problems with its various driver-assist systems, Tesla now faces a subpoena from the Department of Justice over its self-driving cars. 

The electric vehicle maker said that if the government decides to pursue an enforcement action, it might have a material adverse impact on its business.

“To our knowledge no government agency in any ongoing investigation has concluded that any wrongdoing occurred,” Tesla said in the filing Tuesday with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Still, leaders from the local to federal level are putting tighter scrutiny on self-driving cars. In December, Cruise, an autonomous car maker owned by GM, also faced a probe. And in San Francisco, transportation officials sent protest letters to California’s Public Utilities Commission last week, asking state regulators to slow down a planned expansion of autonomous vehicles in the city.

With Waymo operating in Phoenix and San Francisco and Cruise active in those metros and Austin, I talked to residents who have witnessed some of the incidents that the transportation officials detailed in their letter. Some of the incidents involve the car making unnecessary stops for extended periods while others involve clashes with emergency response scenes like when firefighters shattered the front window of a Cruise vehicle to prevent it from moving closer to fire hoses on the ground. 

Benjamin Shaykin, who witnessed a Cruise vehicle holding up traffic in San Francisco earlier this month, said the vehicles are unsettling. But it’s not just Cruise cars he’s worried about. 

He also mentioned uneasiness over Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving” feature, and how it had been in use on Nov. 24 when a Tesla Model S changed lanes and then made a quick stop in the far-left lane of the San Francisco Bay Bridge. An eight-vehicle crash resulted and injured nine people. 

“It’s one thing for you to say, ‘I agree to take responsibility,’ or ‘I agree to put my life in the hands of this thing,’” Shaykin said. “But what about everybody else who did not consent to that?”

Others have expressed excitement over the vehicles though. Randy Fong, President of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, submitted a letter at the start of this month asking the utilities commission to approve Cruise’s efforts to expand.

“San Francisco businesses are already benefiting from Cruise’s all-electric, self-driving vehicles. Since the onset of the pandemic, Cruise has partnered with the SF-Marin Food Bank and SF New Deal to deliver 2.3M+ meals to those in need,” Fong wrote. 

Want to send thoughts or suggestions to Data Sheet? Drop me a line here.

Andrea Guzman


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