Automakers are wading into tricky legal waters in the ongoing quest to make vehicles autonomous. Innovation in this space appears to be outpacing new laws to help regulate it, and we’re starting to see the effects of this disconnect.
A disruption at the Auto Show
Attendees of the April 2021 Shanghai Auto Show were witness to a bizarre scene: a woman standing atop a Model 3 Tesla, arms akimbo, yelling to the crowd. She wore a white T-shirt with red lettering on it that spelled out “brake failure,” with the Tesla logo printed below it. The scene was captured on dozens of smartphones and shared widely on social media, reports
The woman, whose name is Zhang Yazhou, had reportedly taken to the roof of her Tesla to blame a car accident she had been involved in earlier in the year on the failure of the Model 3’s brakes. Though she was soon removed from the situation by event security, her message reverberated throughout the room, and throughout the internet.
Tesla responded by posting on itsWeiboaccount that it was aware of the situation, and had suggested to Zhang that a third party investigation be conducted. Zhang apparently refused. Her husband also voiced a concern that Tesla could simply alter the data it had collected about the car, which would make any litigation moot.
Mutual defamation suits were launched, but the groundwork had been laid: several other Tesla owners in China launched similar brake failure suits, reports
Teslarati. Sifting through the good faith and the grift is always complicated, but in at least one instance a “brake failure” was a clear fake. One TikTok user apologized for staging a brake issue with his Model X, saying that he did so only for “entertainment purposes.”
Unsuccessful, for now
Tesla released the braking data from Zhang’s crash in April of 2021, and used it to successfully argue that the braking system had not failed. This was an unusual move, reports
Nikkei Asia. Tesla is almost never persuaded to share its logs, as there is no regulation that compels them to do so, and the ownership of driver data is still murky. Following this, Zhang was asked by the automaker to apologize, and for payment for damages to Tesla’s reputation.
Though Zhang was unsuccessful in her pursuits, Tesla China is doubling down on its legal muscle, perhaps anticipating more incidents in the future. While autonomous driving is still nascent, the envelope is ripe to be pushed from both sides of the equation.
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