The stock of electric car maker Tesla was down 5% at the beginning of the week after it emerged that regulators in the US had started investigating safety issues on Tesla's autopilot system. The investigation comes after several collisions were reported on cars running on the autopilot system.
According to recent media reports, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that it was beginning preliminary investigations of up to 765,000 Tesla Model X, Y, 2, and 3. The investigation will cover all cars produced from 2014 to 2021. The NHTSA also confirmed that it had identified up to 11 crashes associated with the autopilot system from the beginning of January 2018.
The NHTSA report found that most of these crashes typically occurred at night or in the dark. Nonetheless, this is not the first time the regulator is investigating crashes associated with autopilot vehicles. Since June 2016, the government body has dispatched teams to at least 31 crash scenes where the accidents were suspected to have been caused by a fault in autopilot features.
But what’s more concerning for Tesla is the fact that 25 out of the 31 incidents the NHTSA is looking at all involved Tesla models. In addition to this, there were 10 fatalities in all the cases the NHTSA is looking at, all of which involved Tesla cars.
This is by no means as incriminating but it does raise a lot of questions about the safety of Tesla’s autopilot mode. But it also seems that this is a wide-reaching issue that seems to be affecting many autonomous vehicles. Over the last decade or so the push towards self-driving vehicles has been massive.
There was even talk that we could have self-driving cars on the road by 2022. Companies like Tesla, Uber, and even Google were pushing hard to make this happen. But there have been a few setbacks already, including a series of crashes associated with driverless cars. The US regulator will likely come hard on Tesla if indeed it determines that its autopilot systems have safety issues.
The car industry is already reeling from slowed growth due to the pandemic. There have also been massive semiconductor shortages in the world, something that could prove to be a huge barrier towards driverless cars.
Many analysts believe that the current chip shortage will need up to a year to abate. But there are also concerns that the emergence of the delta variant could bring back the world to the pandemic lockdowns that we saw a year ago.
Japanese carmaker Toyota just came out with a report warning that its car production targets will drop by a massive 40% this year due to supply chain bottlenecks in the chip market. This crunch will affect autonomous cars too, including Tesla's. But it is the NHTSA investigation that is grabbing the headlines and it seems Tesla shareholders are indeed rattled by these latest developments.