Tesla gives Full-Self Driving demo to state agency, tries to keep critics away

Tesla Inc. demonstrated a beta version of its driver-assistance system for California transportation officials, including outside consultants the automaker previously sought to bar from the event.

The demo of the system Tesla markets as Full Self-Driving was held last week at the Sacramento headquarters of the Department of Motor Vehicles, according to emails Bloomberg viewed via a public records request. Also at the Oct. 26 event were a representative of the Highway Patrol, a deputy secretary with the state transportation agency and three outside advisers for the DMV.

At least two of the consultants have made statements critical of Full Self-Driving, or FSD. In addition, the state DMV accused the company in August of misleading consumers about FSD and Autopilot, and its self-driving claims also are being probed by the US Securities and Exchange Commission and Justice Department.

“I question whether it is appropriate to include your consultants that have made negative public statements about Tesla,” Jennifer Cohen, the company’s California lead for policy and business development, wrote in an email in late September to Miguel Acosta, the DMV’s autonomous vehicle chief. “We have yet to receive any assurance that their bias does not influence DMV’s treatment of Tesla.”

The consultants included Bryant Walker Smith, an affiliate scholar at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society. He has said California’s autonomous-vehicle testing rules should apply to Teslas using FSD. 

Another participant, Michael Wagner, is chief executive officer of Edge Case Research, a Pittsburgh-based company focused on making autonomous vehicles safer. The third participant was Steven Shladover, a transportation research engineer at the University of California at Berkeley. In an article earlier this year, he told the Los Angeles Times that he believes the company’s use of the term self-driving is “very damaging.” 

“We appreciate Tesla’s continued assistance in providing information regarding the latest releases and expansion of the Full Self-Driving Beta program and features,” Acosta wrote the company in response. “Our consultants assist us with our ongoing examination of the technology available on California public roads.”

Tesla’s Autopilot features and its years-long promise of eventual self-driving capability are a big part of the Austin, Texas-based electric automaker’s lofty valuation. Roughly 160,000 Tesla drivers in North America had access to what Tesla calls FSD Beta at the end of the third quarter. 

Smith, Wagner and Shladover declined to comment or referred questions to the DMV. The demonstration was part of the DMV’s ongoing review of the intended design and technological capabilities of Tesla vehicles. The agency declined to discuss any further details of the event because the review is ongoing.

Read more: Tesla accused of false autopilot ads by California

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