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Tesla admits it may never achieve full-self-driving cars

The disclosure comes after a fatal crash in Texas earlier this month, when a driverless Tesla ran off the road.

Tesla admits it may never achieve full-self-driving cars
[Image: Tesla]
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Is Tesla shifting gears?

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A recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission includes language acknowledging the company may never achieve full self-driving cars—the invention that’s been its great white whale for years.

After Tesla’s first quarter earnings report on Monday, analyst and Twitter user Gordon Johnson noted that the company’s 10-Q filing has in its risk factors the following statement:

“We are developing self-driving and driver assist technologies to rely on vision-based sensors, unlike alternative technologies in development that additionally require other redundant sensors. There is no guarantee that any incremental changes in the specific equipment we deploy in our vehicles over time will not result in initial functional disparities from prior iterations or will perform as expected in the timeframe we anticipate, or at all.”

The “or at all” is a major caveat, and a tune change from previous years: In 2020’s annual report, the company wrote that it was “continuing to develop our FSD technology with the goal of achieving full self-driving capability in the future.”

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The pivot also comes after a fatal crash in Texas earlier this month, when a driverless Tesla ran off the road, hit a tree, and caught fire, killing two passengers inside. The victims were reportedly discussing the vehicle’s semi-autonomous Autopilot feature moments before the accident.

It’s possible the new edits are simply part of the company’s legal contingency plan: Tesla has been selling cars equipped with full self-driving hardware—and marketing that feature—since 2016, with the idea being that vehicle owners could install the self-driving software once it’s been developed. Tesla CEO Elon Musk, meanwhile, seemed to remain steadfast on the goal during Monday’s earnings call, reporting that the company is just waiting on a few technical issues before the feature can launch.

We reached out to Tesla for comment and will update this story if we hear back.