Tesla always seems to be in the news, however recently the publicity hasn’t been positive. Following the disastrous cyber truck unveiling, a petition has been brought alleging unintended acceleration in Tesla’s Model 3, Model S, and Model X. These accusations come from owner complaints which were compiled in a petition to NHTSA by Brian Sparks. However, Spark’s reported connection to Tesla has made things much more suspect. Sparks has been reported to be an investor shorting Tesla’s stock, meaning if Tesla’s value goes down, Sparks stands to gain financially. Tesla has focused its defense on Spark’s potential financial motivations to damage Tesla’s reputation in a blog post dated January 20, 2020:
“This petition is completely false and was brought by a Tesla short-seller. We investigate every single incident where the driver alleges to us that their vehicle accelerated contrary to their input, and in every case where we had the vehicle’s data, we confirmed that the car operated as designed. In other words, the car accelerates if, and only if, the driver told it to do so, and it slows or stops when the driver applies the brake.
While accidents caused by a mistaken press of the accelerator pedal have been alleged for nearly every make/model of vehicle on the road, the accelerator pedals in Model S, X and 3 vehicles have two independent position sensors, and if there is any error, the system defaults to cut off motor torque. Likewise, applying the brake pedal simultaneously with the accelerator pedal will override the accelerator pedal input and cut off motor torque, and regardless of the torque, sustained braking will stop the car. Unique to Tesla, we also use the Autopilot sensor suite to help distinguish potential pedal misapplications and cut torque to mitigate or prevent accidents when we’re confident the driver’s input was unintentional. Each system is independent and records data, so we can examine exactly what happened.
We are transparent with NHTSA, and routinely review customer complaints of unintended acceleration with them. Over the past several years, we discussed with NHTSA the majority of the complaints alleged in the petition. In every case we reviewed with them, the data proved the vehicle functioned properly.”
Unfortunately for Tesla, there appears to be more to the story than just a financially motivated investor. The petition submitted on December 19, 2019 requested an investigation into the alleged sudden acceleration in 2012-2019 Tesla Model S, 2016-2019 Model X, and 2018-2019 Model 3 vehicles. The petition was supported by 127 consumer complaints to NHTSA involving 123 individual vehicles as well as information regarding 110 crashes and 52 injuries allegedly caused by this defect. The Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) is now evaluating the allegations to determine whether or not to grant the petition. If the petition is granted, ODI will open a defect investigation.
While ODI is determining the validity of the unintended acceleration petition, the lawsuits relating to unintended acceleration continue to stack up. The case of Harcourt v. Tesla out of Alameda County involves a then 8 month pregnant Model X owner who allegedly drove her vehicle into her garage, put it in park, and was subsequently pinned against the wall of her garage when the vehicle suddenly lurched forward allegedly causing her serious injuries and the premature birth of her baby. Most recently, on January 22, 2020 a California law firm announced a new lawsuit brought on behalf of eight Plaintiffs alleging that their Tesla vehicles engaged in unintended acceleration. This is nothing new either, as another class action alleging the same unintended acceleration was filed back in 2016. Only time will tell what the results of NHTSA’s investigation will be, leaving 500,000 potentially affected vehicle owners on the edge of their seats.