A Tesla electric SUV crashed into a barrier on March 23 in Mountain View, California. (KTVU via AP)
For more than a decade, Tesla boss Elon Musk has been trying to convince the car-buying crowds that it's OK to take our trembling hands off the wheel and confide our lives to a smorgasbord of sensors and algorithms ,
But the automaker's safety set another challenge last week as a sobering image made its way around the world: a photo of a Tesla SUV, battered and charred and two front wheels after a burning wreck leaving a two-father missing.
On Friday, Company attempted to explain the March 23 accident. Walter Huang, an Apple engineer whose electric SUV was in autopilot mode, crashed on Highway 101 in Mountain View, California , With 557 words Tesla tried to combat this alarming photo with statistics and numbers that artificially argue intelli The driver is still safer than a human.
However, Tesla had to acknowledge two realities made clear by Huang's death: autonomous vehicle technology is still in its infancy, and because technology is not perfect, humans are the most advanced cars themselves will still be involved in fatal crashes.
"In the past, when we set up statistical safety points, we were criticized for it, which means that we have no empathy for the recent tragedy," the company's statement said. "Nothing is further from the truth, we care a lot for those who have decided to give us their trust, but we also have to look after people who can save their lives now and in the future, if they know that autopilot improves safety. "
The company said it was" unbelievably sorry "for the loss that Huang's family suffered. One friend described Huang, 38, as "just an upright, caring guy." He was also an early Tesla adopter.
Huang's family members told San Francisco ABC affiliate KGO-TV that Huang had complained to his Tesla dealer that his SUV was dodging the same median, where he was later killed. It was unclear Saturday whether the company had identified the problem before the crash, or what, if anything, it had done to tackle it.
In his statement, Tesla said that several things contributed to the accident. The highway crash damper, a safety barrier designed to absorb much of the force of a high-speed crash that had invaded Huang's SUV, had been smashed in an earlier wreck and could not disperse the force of the Tesla collision.
Huang also shared some of the blame, Tesla said. Even in the autopilot, Tesla's vehicles are only semi-autonomous, the company said. The driver is expected to remain alert and ready to take over when something turns up that the vehicle can not handle. Huang does not seem to pay enough attention, Tesla said.
"The driver had received several visual and an audible hands-on warning earlier in the ride, and the driver's hands were not detected on the bike for six seconds before the collision," the company said. He had "about five seconds and 150 meters clear view of the concrete partition with the broken crash cushion, but the vehicle logs show that nothing was done."
But the biggest question – why did the autopilot drive into the barrier into first place – remains unaddressed. The National Transportation Safety Board, the California Highway Patrol, and Tesla are all investigating.
What is clear is that the crash – and the safety issues that it poses – have contributed to a tough week for Tesla and others who want to make cars ubiquitous on American roads.
Tesla's shares fell after Huang's crash. In addition to its problems, the company recalled 123,000 Model S sedans on Thursday after finding that corrosive bolts in cold climates could lead to power steering failure.
The automaker was also hampered by the logistical demands of bringing new cars onto the road with the ambitious pace of its CEO. In May 2016, Musk Tesla said "Target to produce 100,000 to 200,000 model 3s in the second half" in 2017, wrote The Washington Post. Sales of Model 3 totaled 1,770 during that period.
Last August, Musk announced that it would produce 5,000 units a week by the end of the year. But in October, Musk said that ramping up production is "hell" and that the company's current forecast for 5,000 Model X vehicles is in the week ending June.
"Musk struggles with the … prosaic mission, one a passenger car here on Earth," wrote Steven Mufson of the Post Office, comparing Musk's space exploration ambitions to his earthly ones. "While explaining a series of production errors over the past two years, some analysts said that Musk undermined its own credibility by over-promising over and over again."
After Huang's downfall, the company that built his car still makes strong statements. Autopilot reduces crash rates by up to 40 percent, Tesla said. A person driving a Tesla with autopilot hardware is 3.7 times less likely to be involved in a fatal accident.
"Tesla autopilot does not prevent all accidents – such a standard would be impossible – but it makes them much less likely," the statement said. "It clearly makes the world safer for vehicle occupants, pedestrians and cyclists."
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