Jared Overton tells KSL News in Salt Lake City that his Tesla Model S drove itself into the back of a truck, cracking the windshield. The way he tells it, he was parked and about to enter a store when an employee came outside to talk to him about his car. They chatted for about 30 seconds, then went inside the store. When he came out 5 minutes later, his car had moved forward and impaled itself on the back of truck.
Tesla disagrees. In a letter to Overton from the manager of the local Tesla service center, the company says it accessed the computer in Overton’s car and it tells a different story. “Tesla has reviewed the vehicle’s logs, which show that the incident occurred as a result of the driver not being properly attentive to the vehicle’s surroundings while using the Summon feature or maintaining responsibility for safely controlling the vehicle at all times.”
It goes on to say the Summon feature — the latest technology that allows a driver to park or retrieve a Tesla remotely from outside the vehicle — “was initiated by a double press of the gear selector stalk button, shifting from Drive to Park and requesting Summon activation.” It says Summon was activated 3 seconds after Overton got out of his car and shut the driver’s door.
Overton insists it didn’t happen that way and he has a witness — the man from the store he was shopping at. “We were trying to figure out how on earth the vehicle started on its own,” Overton said. “What happened with this kind of rogue vehicle?
He is not happy with Tesla’s response to the situation. “They’re just assuming that I sat there and watched it happen, and I was OK with that. They can tell me what they want to tell me with the logs, but it doesn’t change what we know happened here. I think it behooves them to figure out what happened, what happened with the vehicle, address it,” Jared Overton tells KSL News. “Just fix it,” he says.
Tesla is digging in its heels on this. It sent a statement to KSL News saying the driver is required to actively supervise the car during the Summon operation because the software is still in beta testing mode. The car may not detect small objects on the ground, narrow objects to the side or objects hanging down from above. None of that matters, says Overton, since he never put the car into Summon mode in the first place and besides, a tractor trailer is pretty hard to miss!
Overton said the issue wasn’t about money for him, with a windshield repair totaling about $700. “Imagine if a child was right there — I guarantee that they would be responding to this a lot differently,” Overton said. “I will not feel safe with my little boy playing in the garage or the driveway if there’s the potential for a rogue vehicle.”
There are a couple of things going on here. First, Tesla is using the data stored in a car’s computer to refute what an owner says happened. Second, note that most car companies today forbid owners from accessing that data on their own. They claim all software and data are the property of the company. Tesla is suggesting its computers are infallible, which seems to be a dangerous position to take. Over at Teslarati, one person commented that her Model S shut itself off while driving. Tesla claims it never happened, even though the driver and several passengers all say it did.
The message Tesla is sending is that when it comes to you versus the car, it is going to believe the car every time. Whatever happened to “The customer is always right?”
Tesla may be turning the world of personal transportation upside down, but it has not repealed the rules of good salesmanship. For a company that relies exclusively on happy customers to say good things about its cars, it cannot afford negative publicity and a sense that it doesn’t have its customer’s back when the chips are down. “Take care of the customer and the customer will take care of you,” applies to everyone — even so exalted a personage as Elon Musk.
Third, does it creep you out a little bit that your car is keeping a record of everything you do? How long before data stored onboard is used in courts to resolve personal injury claims or to prove you were not where you told your spouse you were? There is a dark underside to technology. Nobody, especially Tesla, wants to talk about it, but the technology that sets us free can also imprison us, literally or figuratively. We don’t want to think about out cars tattling to Mother Tesla, but they already do.
Photo credit: Screenshot from KSl footage.