Tesla shunt in Beijing spurs change of marketing speak

Tesla Motors has altered the translation of how the electric-car maker markets its Autopilot system in China, following a minor accident in Beijing this month.

The maker of the plug-in Model X crossover changed the translation to list Autopilot as a driver-assistance system, rather than a self-driving system, on its website, said Gary Tao, a Beijing-based spokesman.

Luo Zhen, a 32-year-old Beijing resident, sideswiped a parked car when using Autopilot without keeping his hands on the wheel this month, which scratched his Model S but did not result in any injuries.


“We hope to clarify that it is a driving-assisting function and hope people can use it in a correct way,” Mr Tao said.

Tesla has always asked its users to use Autopilot with both hands on the wheel since introducing the feature last year, he said.

Tesla’s Autopilot system has come under greater scrutiny following a May 7 crash in Florida that killed a 40-year-old Ohio man, which the company said was the first known fatality in more than 130 million miles of use.

China’s regulators are crafting policies for autonomous driving and have directed automakers to suspend road testing of self-driving cars in the meantime.

Domestic companies including Chongqing Changan Automobile, Baidu and Zhejiang Geely have urged the government to speed up the process and clear the way for technology that could make roads safer.

Mr Luo took his eyes off the road and both hands off the wheel when his Model S hit a Volkswagen Santana Vista during his commute to work on August 2, he said. Prior to purchasing the car, the sales manager demonstrated the feature by taking both hands off the wheel during a test drive, he said.

“They didn’t clarify the risk but kept leaving the impression on everyone that its technology is fabulous and intelligent,” Mr Luo said of Tesla.

“It can easily mislead people to overuse the function, which is immature.”

Mr Tao said the company was not aware of the test drive taken by Luo. He confirmed the details related to the accident.

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