Tesla denies driver complaints of sudden unintended acceleration

Tesla denies driver complaints of sudden unintended acceleration

A Tesla Model 3 car is on display during the Auto China 2018 at China International Exhibition Center on April 25, 2018 in Beijing, China.

VCG/VCG | Getty Images

Tesla blasted customer complaints that its cars may suddenly accelerate on their own Monday, calling the reports “completely false.”

The 127 complaints about Tesla vehicles suddenly accelerating are contained in a petition calling for a federal defect investigation of the matter. Independent investor Brian Sparks, who told CNBC last week that he is currently shorting Tesla stock, submitted the petition to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Tesla said in a statement Monday that it has previously discussed “the majority of the complaints alleged in the petition” with NHTSA. The company said it has examined data on all incidents in which data is available, but did not provide details on such data.

“This petition is completely false and was brought by a Tesla short-seller,” the company said in the statement. “We investigate every single incident where the driver alleges to us that their vehicle accelerated contrary to their input, and in every case where we had the vehicle’s data, we confirmed that the car operated as designed.”

Sparks told CNBC on Monday, after Tesla issued its denial: “I am encouraged by Tesla’s commitment to continue cooperating with NHTSA, and I expect we will learn shortly why Tesla owners report unintended acceleration much more frequently than owners of other vehicles.”

The complaints contained in the petition, when tallied, allege that unintended acceleration of Tesla cars may have contributed to or caused 110 crashes and 52 injuries. Tesla provided few details on how it determined the complaints to be untrue.

“I am concerned that these complaints reflect a systemic defect that has not been investigated by NHTSA,” Sparks wrote in the petition. “I am also concerned that these potential defects represent risk to the safety of Tesla drivers, their passengers, and the public.”

Tesla said the issue is not unique to Tesla vehicles and claimed it’s common for drivers to file complaints when they accidentally hit the accelerator. The company added that its Autopilot technology works to prevent accidents from misapplications of the accelerator pedal.

The NHTSA said, in a notice about the petition, that the scope of these allegations are broad and could apply to 500,000 Tesla vehicles including Model 3, Model S and Model X sedans and SUVs, made from 2013 through 2019.

Once it evaluates the contents of the petition, NHTSA — which has the power to mandate vehicle recalls, or recalls of components and other technology in vehicles — will decide if it should open a formal probe. If it decides not to offer a formal probe, it is expected to say why not, with an entry on a federal registry. The NHTSA investigator assigned to evaluate the petition is Ajit Alkondon.

Historically, the Department of Transportation (and NHTSA) receives myriad complaints about possible unintended acceleration incidents in a wide number of vehicles.

Both evaluated Toyota and Lexus vehicles in the 2000s to determine if defects in their electrical systems led to sudden acceleration and crashes. Many incidents that drivers ascribe to unintended acceleration, upon investigation, are found to be caused by driver errors, like pedal misapplication.

Tesla vehicles include newer technologies, such as the company’s signature advanced driver assistance system, Autopilot, and “Ludicrous mode” acceleration, which allows drivers of some Model 3 variants to go from 0 to 60 mph in less than 4 seconds.

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