I wouldn’t call what’s happening a meltdown exactly, maybe more of a collective moment of clarity. Right now on Reddit’s r/teslamotors forum there’s an intense and very serious conversation about the now-$10,000 level 2 driver assist package that Tesla calls “Full Self-Driving” (FSD)—specifically, whether the features Tesla and Elon Musk started promising back in 2016 will ever actually exist, and what kind of legal exposure Tesla has if it fails to deliver. People have put down real money and haven’t yet gotten what they were expecting, which has led to these difficult conversations.
The original poster said they were motivated to start the thread because of Ford PR rep Mike Levine’s description of Tesla’s “FSD” system as “vaporware,” which had sparked a lot of debate about “FSD’s” status as vaporware or not within the Tesla community.
Here’s how the poster explains it:
This might not be the right forum, but I’m curious if anyone has done a semi-academic study of the legal and financial exposure to Tesla and perhaps Elon himself if the FSD continues to push? I understand that is a complicated question because Tesla itself isn’t overly forthcoming and the reasons for pushing could vary wildly from bugs to government intervention.
I’m often chastised by other owners for taking a serious rather than optimistic view on the company, but it seems to me that the FSD presales constitute a contractual obligation for a specific set of features and that at some point the failure to deliver on those promises is a breach of contract subject to not just refunds, but perhaps penalties and other legal action
This is an entirely valid question to ask, especially if you’ve coughed up ten grand (plus the cost of the car) for a suite of technological capabilities that you’ve yet to see. The OP isn’t just concerned about that, though; they’re also concerned about the potential liability for Tesla as a company if it fails to deliver on its “FSD” promises.
There’s also a lot of talk about exactly what Tesla actually promises when you pre-order “FSD,” though this really shouldn’t cause all that much debate, as Tesla’s own website lays it out pretty clearly:
“All new Tesla cars have the hardware needed in the future for full self-driving in almost all circumstances. The system is designed to be able to conduct short and long distance trips with no action required by the person in the driver’s seat.
All you will need to do is get in and tell your car where to go. If you don’t say anything, the car will look at your calendar and take you there as the assumed destination or just home if nothing is on the calendar. Your Tesla will figure out the optimal route, navigate urban streets (even without lane markings), manage complex intersections with traffic lights, stop signs and roundabouts, and handle densely packed freeways with cars moving at high speed. When you arrive at your destination, simply step out at the entrance and your car will enter park seek mode, automatically search for a spot and park itself. A tap on your phone summons it back to you.
The future use of these features without supervision is dependent on achieving reliability far in excess of human drivers as demonstrated by billions of miles of experience, as well as regulatory approval, which may take longer in some jurisdictions. As these self-driving capabilities are introduced, your car will be continuously upgraded through over-the-air software updates.”
This sure sounds like full, Level 5 autonomy, with descriptions like “The system is designed to be able to conduct short and long distance trips with no action required by the person in the driver’s seat” and “All you will need to do is get in and tell your car where to go.”
The system is nowhere near that yet.
Other parts of Tesla’s site break “FSD” down into seven distinct modules:
A lot of the responses are suggesting class action lawsuits may be possible, despite Tesla’s legal disclaimers, partially because Elon Musk’s tweets and other comments about “FSD’s” capabilities and timeline make a lot of very specific claims:
“A big, fat class action. Tesla’s disclaimers don’t protect them from legal action, especially given Elon’s tweets.”
An example of an Elon tweet could be this one, from 2018:
Okay, he did hedge with “probably” there, but in this 2019 Q4 Earnings Call, he said
“We will be feature complete full self driving this year. The car will be able to find you in a parking lot, pick you up, take you all the way to your destination without an intervention this year. I’m certain of that. That is not a question mark. It will be essentially safe to fall asleep and wake up at their destination towards the end of next year”
The mention of “regulators” in the above tweet is notable as well, because of how often the concept of regulatory delays seems to come up when Tesla talks about “FSD.”
It’s mentioned on the Reddit discussion a number of times, and the idea that regulatory issues are what’s holding “FSD” back is hinted at on Tesla’s site, in the beginning of a video showing off “FSD’s” capabilities:
The problem is that, as is also mentioned in that Reddit thread, there are currently no Federal regulations regarding autonomous vehicles. Some states have regulations, but many of those states, including Florida and Michigan, allow autonomous vehicles to be driven on public roads. Tennessee even has legislation prohibiting local governments from banning AVs.
If anything is keeping “FSD” from being delivered, it’s not the government.
What makes this thread interesting is that it’s a good reminder that as often as we may talk about hardcore, cultish Tesla Stans, the actual owners are, of course, by no means a monolithic bloc.
This thread reads like a lot of intelligent people with disposable income who want to see autonomous vehicles come to market, and who made a hopeful, expensive decision to trust in what they were told was coming. Now they’re not so sure.
Of course, ardent Tesla defenders are there, too, even the ones that seem to have a reasonably clear view about the situation:
“I agree that Elon has been overly optimistic about the state of Full Self Driving. However, it’s clear to me (or at least it was) that I was paying for a suite of really neat driver automation features with an absolutely killer ADAS with the potential to get even more driver automation up to L5 when it becomes available.
I think the heartburn around this feature really comes from the feature’s name. FSD and Autopilot are crazy optimistic names for what they currently provide. But that’s what I love about Tesla and why I purchased one (and, later, stocks in the company). They take moonshots in so many places. The Model 3’s interior is dead-simple because it’s built for a universe where you don’t drive yourself. Same deal for the Model S and its integrated yoke and Smart Shift. You have to do crazy shit like this to make the future happen.”
So, this commenter agrees that Autopilot and “FSD” names are “crazy optimistic,” but still finds that to be something they “love about Tesla.”
At one point, the OP is asked “what’s your purpose,” to which they respond
“The discussion of FSD status, timeframe, and if progress is reasonable has been had many times here and other places. I find that it usually devolves into a shouting match between the two groups well represented here, that being the mass of people who border on Elon worshipers and those that feel wronged/misled by him. I experienced something very similar to that in a FB thread for my local Tesla owner’s group only two days ago.
I am trying to engage in a more thoughtful evaluation of what is going on from a non-technical perspective. In particular, I’m trying to make a determination in my own mind if what is going on here is reasonable and justifiable or if there is something nefarious afoot. It is easy to make accusations or draw conclusions based on preconceived biases about this. I’m hoping to be more factual about it.”
I’ve tried to quote some key parts here, but I think if you’re remotely interested in the development of autonomy and Tesla in particular, this is a very interesting thread to read.
There’s so much going on here, and so many questions raised. Is “FSD” a genuinely earnest project with real goals and deliverables, or an elaborate scam to get a lot of money while delivering nothing?
Is it real but just very behind schedule and suffering from Elon’s frequent overhyping and over-promising? Like when he claimed Teslas were appreciating assets because they’d soon be able to earn money for their owners as self-driving robotaxis?
Would buyers of “FSD” pre-orders able to file a class-action lawsuit if the promised capabilities aren’t delivered? Is Tesla protected from this? Would it cripple the company?
There are so many questions, and really not many answers, at least not yet. It’s good that the discussion is happening, though, as all of these issues need addressing.