Tweet sparks investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot software

ByLance T. Lee

Oct 12, 2022

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By Matt McFarland, CNN Business

Green, an influential Twitter account with a track record of revealing Tesla insights from software analytics, made a observation about some of the company’s latest software that has caught the interest of a European car safety organization.

Green tweeted that Tesla recently added the name of an Australian and Asian vehicle proving ground to its software. There are other vehicle proving grounds also listed in the code, he said, located in Europe, China and Korea. Important tests that assess the safety of vehicles are carried out at these sites, which are supported by government and industry. This curious inclusion of proving ground names in the code, Green suggests, could indicate that Tesla vehicles are designed to perform differently on proving grounds. This could affect the quality of test results.

Now Euro NCAP, the European government-backed organization that assesses vehicle safety, is investigating Tesla over the suggestion.

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So far, regulators have found no evidence of wrongdoing, Euro NCAP program director Aled Williams told CNN Business in an email last week. (NCAP stands for New Car Assessment Program.) The agency conducts tests and gives new vehicles a safety rating of zero to five stars. He is highly respected in Europe.

“The integrity of its star rating system is of the utmost importance to Euro NCAP and we will continue to do our utmost to ensure the rating reflects the safety consumers can expect from their vehicles,” Williams said. “So far, Euro NCAP investigations have found no evidence of any attempt to ‘cheat’ the tests by Tesla.”

Euro NCAP said shortly after Green’s tweets that it was investigating the findings and seeking more information from Tesla.

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment on the investigation.

The organization reviewed Tesla’s software updates to test the vehicles and found no faults, Williams said.

Williams said the investigation is not uncommon because, when she has reason to do so, she has taken a closer look at the vehicle’s performance to verify the results. He said the Tesla investigation has been more publicized than others.

Green had mentioned that geofencing can be used to turn a feature on or off at a certain location. Tesla, for example, has restricted its driver assistance system it calls “complete self-driving” to part of Toronto.

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Euro NCAP found no evidence that Tesla used geofencing to identify when a vehicle is at a test location and alter its performance.

“It’s possible the GPS location could be used to identify that the car is at a specific test track,” Williams said. “That’s one of the possibilities we’re giving Tesla and they absolutely deny it’s being done.”

Williams said a vehicle’s GPS location would be known once it is turned on.

He also said Euro NCAP has been informed that software code references to particular test programs like Australia and Asia – known as ANCAP – are only used to identify the region for which the car is configured.

“Different regions (such as Europe, Australasia etc) differ in terms of legislation as well as road states/markings etc,” Williams wrote. “The recent addition of ANCAP to the Model Y code coincides with the start of sales of this vehicle in Australasia.”

Green, the influential Twitter account, told CNN Business via Twitter DM that this explanation seemed strange given that Japan, which has unique marks and signs, is not listed in the software.

Euro NCAP’s Williams declined to comment on the inconsistency. Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.

There’s still work to be done in the investigation, Williams said. They are looking to confirm that they can replicate their official test results.

Tesla’s Model Y SUV had received the highest score of any vehicle in the Euro NCAP safety test that ranked driver assistance systems in September.

While there’s no evidence that Tesla software interferes with testing, it’s not uncommon for an automaker to use software to manipulate a test. Volkswagen has edited software in as many as 11 million vehicles so that nitrogen oxide emissions are much lower in tests than on the road, helping it meet clean air standards.

The fallout was damaging for VW, as the automaker recalled millions of vehicles at a cost of $7.3 billion. The CEO of VW has lost his job.

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