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June 16, 2019
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Consumer Reports knocks Tesla’s Navigate on Autopilot feature

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Consumer Reports is calling the automatic lane-change feature on Tesla’s Navigate on Autopilot “far less competent” than a human driver and cautioned it could pose safety risks.

The consumer advocacy organization posted its review Wednesday on the newest version of Tesla’s advanced driver assistance system.

Navigate on Autopilot is an active guidance system that is supposed to navigate a car from a highway on-ramp to off-ramp, including interchanges and making lane changes. Once drivers enter a destination into the navigation system, they can enable “Navigate on Autopilot” for that trip.

Tesla pushed out a software update last month to allow for automatic lane changes. Drivers have to enable this feature, which gives the car permission to make its own lane changes. If not enabled, the system asks the driver to confirm the lane change before moving over. Automatic lane changes can be canceled at any time.

The system has been touted as a way to make driving less stressful and improve safety. In practice, the system had startling behavior, Jake Fisher, senior director of auto testing at Consumer Reports told TechCrunch.

“It doesn’t take very long behind the wheel with this feature on to realize it’s not quite ready for prime time,” Fisher said. CR said one of the more troubling concerns were failures of Tesla’s three rearward-facing cameras to detect fast-approaching objects from the rear better than the average driver.

The CR reviewers found Navigate on Autopilot lagged behind human driving skills and engaged in problematic behavior such as cutting off cars and passing on the right. CR drivers often had to take over to prevent the system from making poor decisions.

As a result, the system increases stress and doesn’t improve safety, Fisher said, before asking “So what is the point of this feature?”

The automatic lane change reviewed by Consumer Reports is not the default setting for Autopilot, Tesla notes. It’s an option that requires drivers to remove the default setting. Tesla also argues that drivers using Navigate on Autopilot properly have successfully driven millions of miles and safely made millions of automated lane changes.

While Fisher acknowledged the default setting, he contends that isn’t the issue. He notes the Tesla has many warnings that the driver must be alert and ready to take over at any time.

“Our concern is that if you’re not alert (or ready to take over) you could be put into a tricky situation,” he said.

The bigger concern for all systems like these is the driver will put too much trust into it, Fisher said. The automatic lane-change feature might not be good enough for drivers to let down their guard yet. If Tesla improves this system, even a little bit, the risk of complacency and too much trust rises.

And that’s problematic because drivers still must be ready to take over. “Just watching automation is a harder human task than driving the car,” he said.

CR asserts that an effective driver monitoring system would mitigate this risk. DMS is typically a camera combined with software designed to track a driver’s attention and pick up on cognitive issues that could cause an accident such as drowsiness.

DMS are found in certain BMW models with an ADAS system called DriverAssist Plus, the new 2020 Subaru Outback and Cadillac’s equipped with its Super Cruise system.

This isn’t the first time CR has raised concerns about Autopilot. Last week, the consumer advocacy organization called on Tesla to restrict the use of Autopilot and install a more effective system to verify driver engagement in response to a preliminary report by National Transportation Safety Board on the fatal March 2019 crash of a Tesla Model 3 with a semi-trailer in Delray Beach, Fla.

Last year, CR gave GM’s Super Cruise the top spot in its first-ever ranking of partially automated driving systems because it is the best at striking a balance between technical capabilities and ensuring drivers are paying attention and operating the vehicle safely. Tesla followed in the ranking not because it was less capable, but because of its approach to safety, Fisher noted.

CR evaluated four systems: Super Cruise on the Cadillac CT6, Autopilot on Tesla Model S, X and 3 models, ProPilot Assist on Infiniti QX50 and Nissan Leaf, and Pilot Assist on Volvo XC40 and XC60 vehicles. The organization said it picked these systems because they’re considered the most capable and well-known in the industry.

Tesla Model Y orders are now open

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Customers can already place an order for the Tesla Model Y, a mid-sized crossover SUV that won’t go into production until 2020.

Tesla requires a $2,500 deposit to complete the order for the all-electric vehicle, according to information posted on its website. A disclaimer on the order form states that “production is expected to begin late next year.” Under that timeline, deliveries wouldn’t begin until late 2020 or possibly early 2021.

There are other clues on the order page, including that the seven-seat interior won’t be available until 2021. The Model Y will come standard as a five seater.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled the Model Y on Thursday night at the Tesla Design Studio in Los Angeles. During the presentation, Musk didn’t mention that customers could order the Model Y. That’s a departure from previous events, notably the Model 3 reveal in March 2016, which prompted thousands of people to put down $1,000 deposits.

The Model Y bears a striking resemblance to Model 3, and for good reason. The Model Y shares about 75 percent of the same parts as the Model 3.

The vehicle, which will come in a standard, long range, dual-motor all-wheel and performance variants, is larger than the Model 3, allowing it to accommodate seven people (for those who opt to pay the $3,000 up charge). The order page of the Model Y shows that it comes standard as a 5-seater. To get the 7-seater configuration, customers have to pay an additional $3,000.

The Model Y also sits higher than the Model 3, a distinction that is more obvious once you’re sitting inside. One of the most distinguishing differences is the Model Y has a panoramic roof.

The standard range version will start $39,000 and have 230 mile range. However, Tesla will first produce the performance, dual-motor and long range versions. Customers who want the standard range version of the Model Y will have to wait until at least spring 2021. The performance and dual motor variants will be able to travel 280 miles on a single charge, while the long-range version will, as it sounds, have the longest range at 300 miles.

All of the variants are designed to have the same kind of performance as its smaller sibling. The performance version of the Model Y will be able to travel from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 3.5 seconds and reach a top speed of 150 mph.

But that kind of performance comes at a higher price. The performance version will start at $60,000. The dual motor variant will start at $51,000 and the base price of the long-range version will be $47,000.

Tesla vehicles ordered after October 15 lose out on full tax credit eligibility

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Tesla customers who want the full $7,500 federal tax credit have until October 15 to order a Model S, Model X or Model 3 electric vehicle, a new deadline posted on the company’s website that could spark a flurry of sales.

The October 15 deadline was added Thursday to the Tesla website.

Earlier this year, Tesla hit a bittersweet milestone when it delivered its 200,000th electric vehicle. The achievement — a noteworthy occasion for an automaker that didn’t exist 15 years ago — activated a countdown for the $7,500 federal tax credit offered to consumers who buy new electric vehicles.

The tax credit begins to phase out once a manufacturer has sold 200,000 qualifying vehicles in the U.S. Under these rules, Tesla customers have to take delivery of their new Model S, Model X or Model 3 by December 31. Tesla explained how the tax credit would phase out and the Dec. 31 delivery deadline two months ago.

Until Thursday, it wasn’t clear if or when Tesla would impose a deadline for customers to order their electric vehicle.

Tesla estimates that customers who order a Model X and Model S right now would take delivery of their vehicles in November. The Model 3, depending on the variant a customer chooses, could take up to eight weeks, according to the company’s website.

The newly imposed deadline may spur sales, giving Tesla an added boost to close out 2018. However, these delivery-sensitive sales come with added responsibility — and the potential of angering new customers if Tesla fails to meet that deadline.

 

Tesla opens the Model 3 reservation floodgates

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Tesla has opened the Model 3 waitlist floodgates, inviting all reservation holders in the U.S. and Canada to order the electric sedan that’s inextricably tied to its survival.

As of Thursday, existing reservation holders in the United States and Canada can log onto the Tesla website and complete their order in the company’s online design studio. Emails are gradually rolling out to reservation holders.

Tesla won’t disclose how many people in the U.S. and Canada have made the $1,000 refundable deposit for the Model 3. More than 450,000 people had reservations globally at the end of the first quarter, according to a shareholder letter issued in May. The number of Canadian and U.S. customers on the waitlist certainly number in the tens of thousands.

Tesla at a crossroads

Tesla sits at a critical juncture. The company has failed to meet any of its production and delivery targets for the Model 3 since its splashy event in July 2017 when CEO Elon Musk handed out the first vehicles to employees. Meanwhile, it’s pouring through cash as it struggles to solve production bottlenecks for the car that is supposed to thrust Tesla from niche maker of luxury electric cars to mass manufacturer — a vital piece of Musk’s broader master plan to provide and sell a sustainable energy ecosystem of products, including solar panels and energy storage.

The stakes are high and Musk’s actions in recent months have a noticeably frenetic cadence. The company recently erected a massive tent, two football fields in length, on the grounds of its Fremont, Calif. factory that houses a hastily built assembly line for the Model 3.

Musk has taken to sleeping at the factory as the deadline looms.

The company’s Model 3 problems first came to light in early October 2017 when it reported it had produced just 260 of its new electric cars in the third quarter and delivered only 220. Production figures have improved, but the company has yet to hit its targets.

Now, all eyes are on Musk as he tries to meet a goal of producing 5,000 Model 3 sedans a week by the end of June. The company is expected to report production and delivery numbers for the latest quarter, which ends June 30.

Three Model 3 choices

Tesla is focusing on higher-margin variants of the Model 3 for now. On Wednesday, Tesla sent an email to reservation holders introducing new Model 3 options, as well as making some noteworthy pricing adjustments and delivery estimates.

Reservation holders can now choose from three versions of the Model 3: the long-range 310-mile rear-wheel drive, long-range dual motor all-wheel drive or the performance variant. Delivery estimates will be shown to customers as they make their selection and will depend upon their order date and the vehicle configuration selected.

Tesla also lowered prices for the dual motor and performance variants. The new pricing will be retroactively applied to customers who have already placed their orders, according to the company. The dual-motor long-range battery Model 3 now starts at $53,000, a price reduction of $1,000. The base performance version is now priced at $64,000, down from $78,000, thanks to Tesla making many of the premium features into optional upgrades. The performance upgrade package is an additional $5,000. Premium paint colors and a white interior each cost an additional $1,500.

For those who are desperate for any Model 3, price be damned, their best option is to pick the dual motor performance version. It’s no mistake that it’s also the most expensive one. Tesla estimates deliveries for this version in two to four months for the earliest reservation holders, according to a review of the design studio.

 

The elusive $35,000 Model 3

But for those early reservation holders, who have been pining for Tesla’s cheapest Model 3 — a $35,000 version equipped with a standard 220-mile range battery — the wait just got about three months longer.

Deliveries of the standard battery version of the Model 3 won’t begin for six to nine months for the earliest reservation holders. That means a person who plunked down a refundable $1,000 deposit on March 31, 2016 might not get the standard battery Model 3 until March 2019.

Keep in mind that this base version isn’t an available option yet. The company said in its first quarter letter to shareholders that it will begin offering the base model with a standard-sized battery pack after it achieves a production rate of 5,000 Model 3s a week.

A month ago, the Tesla Design Studio showed deliveries of the standard battery Model 3 (again for the earliest reservation holders) would begin in late 2018. (See the screenshot captured May 25, 2018 below.)

For prospective customers who put down a deposit today, the wait is up to a year. And now that the waitlist has opened up, that timeline could get a lot longer.

Tesla has pushed out the delivery date for the base version of the Model 3 before, largely because it has focused its efforts on higher-margin versions of the Model 3. Production bottlenecks haven’t helped. Tesla estimated back in December that deliveries to early reservation holders for the standard battery version with rear-wheel drive would begin in early 2018.

For the most fervent Tesla fans, another three months might be palatable, even with the repeated delays. But peruse social media and forums dedicated to Tesla owners (and prospective ones) and it’s clear that patience is beginning to dwindle for some. Further delays could prompt folks on the waitlist to finally ask for their deposit back and turn to other automakers that are finally bringing EVs to market, particularly if Tesla loses the federal credit for plug-in electric vehicles.

All plug-in vehicles sold in the U.S. are eligible for a full federal tax credit of up to $7,500. Once Tesla, or any other manufacturer for that matter, sells its 200,000th vehicle in the U.S., it begins to lose the $7,500 tax credit. The credit is not pulled immediately. The tax credit is made available through the end of the current quarter and continues through the following one. From here, credit drops 50 percent per vehicle for another six months. The credit continues to fall until it disappears altogether.

Tesla is expected to hit that 200,000 mark in 2018.

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