NHTSA Questions Tesla Over ‘Elon Mode’ That Stopped Autopilot Demanding Your Attention

We’re half way there now. It’s Wednesday, August 30, 2023, and this is The Morning Shift, your daily roundup of the top automotive headlines from around the world, in one place. Here are the important stories you need to know today.

1st Gear: The NHTSA Has More Questions For Tesla

Tesla is under the gun right now. Its long-awaited Cybertruck is long-delayed, it’s preparing to head to court to defend itself in the first case where someone died while Autopilot was engaged and now it’s facing even more scrutiny from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

According to a report from CNBC, Tesla is facing more questions from the NHTSA over its driver assistance system, called Autopilot. The site reports that the agency sent Tesla a “special order” that requested “extensive data” about the system, its usage, and safety features. The site reports:

The auto safety regulators want to know more about a configuration for Tesla vehicles known as “Elon mode” that eliminates a so-called “nag” that normally prompts owners to keep their hands on the steering wheel.

Among other things, the agency asked for data about how many Tesla drivers ever had this configuration enabled.

According to CNBC, when a driver normally has Autopilot engaged, an icon flashes on the center console to remind them to keep their hands on the wheel. If they ignore the reminder, it gets louder with an added beeping noise and, if they continue to ignore the reminders, the car can “disable the use of its advanced driver assistance features.”

Now, the NHTSA is hoping to find out more about the special “Elon Mode” and how it prevents such reminders from being heard. The agency also wants to know how many cars and drivers were authorized to use the setting.

2nd Gear: $200 Million Isn’t Enough

Tesla isn’t the only automaker under scrutiny in the U.S., as Kia and Hyundai are also under fire following a spate of car thefts that targeted several of their cars. Now, the two companies are attempting to settle the case out of court, but legislators have argued that the firms’ offering is way too small.

The case relates to a spree of car thefts that targeted Hyundai and Kia models that were not fitted with immobilizers, which experts warned made them targets for stealing. Following the thefts, class action lawsuits were brought against the two companies in several states, these have since been “consolidated into a multi-district litigation case in the Central District of California,” Automotive News reports.

After lawyers from the two companies deliberated with those from the plaintiffs, they reportedly reached an agreement for $200 million split between claimants dependent on the “the severity of financial loss.” However, a federal judge has denied the settlement, ruling that the amount is not enough. Automotive News reports:

The $200 million settlement proposed to award owners whose cars were stolen and never recovered or completely totaled — the most severe category — up to $6,125. Owners whose cars were damaged or who lost personal property during an attempted theft would be eligible to receive up to $3,375.

According to court documents, U.S. District Judge James Selna ruled that those amounts were not satisfactory because vehicles built in 2011 would be worth less than those manufactured in 2022, which could be worth “substantially more.”

Hyundai and Kia now say they will “clarify and revise” the settlement, with plans to renew the motion “in the next 2 to 3 weeks.”

3rd Gear: Toyota’s Shutdown Happened During A System Update

Yesterday, Toyota was in turmoil as it was forced to pause production at its sites across Japan following a system outage. The company ruled out a cyber attack as the cause of the glitch, but now sources at the automaker have suggested that the problems may have arisen during a system update.

In a report from Reuters, insiders at Toyota told the site that the outage occurred while the automaker was updating its parts ordering system. The crash resulted in the closure of 12 of Toyota’s 14 factories across Japan. Reuters reports:

The world’s top-selling automaker has not given any details of what went wrong to cause the closure and a company spokesperson on Wednesday was unable to say whether the glitch happened during a system update.

Toyota, which restarted operations at its Japanese assembly plants on Wednesday, has seen production recovering this year. The full-day outage at its domestic plants could be equivalent to $356 million in revenue, Reuters calculations based on output data and financial reporting showed.

Toyota shipped 859,506 vehicles in July, marking an eight percent rise on the same period last year. However, its August figures, which are not yet available, are likely to be impacted by this week’s shutdown.

4th Gear: EV Sales Are Up 63 Percent In Europe

Sales of electric cars are slowly, but surely, rising in America – despite all the unsold models sitting on lots way longer than many expected. But that’s just the story here in the U.S., across in Europe it’s a different story. There, it seems like people actually want to buy EVs.

In a new report on the state of auto sales across the continent, Bloomberg found that sales were up 17 percent last month, marking a full year of growth across Europe. Interestingly, that rise included a whopping 63 percent boom for EVs, which was bolstered by raises in countries like the UK and Germany. As Bloomberg reports:

Buyers in Germany registered 48,682 fully electric cars in July, up 69% from a year ago and by far the most among European markets.

In the UK — where London drivers are now subject to more stringent emissions rules — sales soared 88% to 23,010 units. France ranked third with 16,867 battery-electric vehicles delivered.

Across the region, the top-selling car was the Tesla Model Y, but it was Volkswagen that shifted the most cars across Europe. Bloomberg reports that the German company sold 280,294 cars across all fuel types, up 19% from a year ago.

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